California Bill Would Allow Community Colleges to Award 4-Year Degrees

A number of community colleges in California could begin to offer four-year degrees if a new bill is signed by the state’s governor.

If SB 850 goes through, 15 community colleges would participate in a pilot program, each launching one bachelor’s degree program beginning this coming January.  Those who enroll would need to complete their programs by 2023.

It was not released which schools would be the first to offer the programs, but the proposal did say that those schools who want to participate must be in an area where there is a “demonstrated local workforce need.”

“This is landmark legislation that is a game changer for California’s higher education system and our workforce preparedness,” said State Sen. Marty Block, (D-San Diego), who authored the bill.

Block said that the state will need about 1 million more workers to hold a four-year degree within the next 10 years.  The current system allows community colleges to offer associate degrees and technical certificates.  Those students who wish to complete their bachelor’s programs need to transfer to a four-year school.

“We need to use all of California’s resources — including our community colleges — to close that gap,” he said in a statement.

The University of California and California State University are presently the only public higher education systems allowed to offer four-year degrees.

“In cases where businesses, healthcare organizations, and other industries now require a bachelor’s degree at their entry level, it is imperative that community colleges step forward to ensure the competitiveness of our students,” said San Diego Community College Chancellor Dr. Constance Carroll in a statement.

Supporters claim that the new degree offerings are in great demand, and note that 21 other states already have the programs in place in their community colleges.

“In today’s economy, many businesses require their employees to possess a four-year degree or higher skill sets than are offered through associate degree programs, even in fields such as dental hygiene or automotive technology where a two-year degree would have been sufficient in the past,” California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris said in a news release. “I applaud the Legislature for addressing California’s urgent workforce needs.”

Budget constraints have squashed previous attempts to allow bachelor’s degree programs into community colleges in the state.  However, supporters believe there is more momentum this time around that will lead to the successful implementation of the program.

SB 850 was introduced to the Senate in January of this year by primary sponsors Jerry Hill and Marty Block, both Democrats. After months in a steering committee, it was presented to a vote on August 20, and passed by a 77-0 margin with two abstaining.

Although Governor Jerry Brown’s focus for higher education has mainly been about online education, Block said he is confident the governor will sign the bill.