California Community Colleges Explore Offering 4-Year Degrees

California’s community college students will soon have more to look forward to beyond a 2-year degree. With the need for highly trained, Bachelor’s degree holding citizens rising in California, community colleges are now being asked to provide four year college degrees as well, says Katy Murphy and Paul Burgarino’s of San Jose Mercury News write:

“The argument goes like this: Two-year associate degrees are becoming insufficient for some fields, such as nursing and respiratory therapy, but bachelor’s degree programs in those areas are scarce. Expanding community college programs would help students complete a bachelor’s degree quickly, without the hassle, the expense of transferring to another school and the dreaded delays.”

Many students have to transfer out of state to get four year degrees in their field. California is looking to its two year associate’s degree schools to combat that drain. It will be slow at first, with only a few community colleges having one four year degree program, but the state hopes to expand upon that in the near future.

One of the main concerns, Murphy and Burgarino suggest, is where steady funding will come from. Opponents worry about whether the state will sufficiently fund the programs, how much tuition will be for students, getting credentialed professors, and whether the community colleges will take away students from existing four year colleges.

Originally, restrictions on the state’s community colleges started about fifty years ago with the state’s Master Plan for Higher Education, which clearly defined the roles of two year community colleges and four year universities to minimize business competition and duplication. However, as the demand for four year degrees increases, the plan is being reevaluated.

Now California is trying to find ways to fund its community colleges and higher education programs. Max Pringle of KPBAS writes that some have pointed to the oil severance tax bill, which is a tax on the oil taken out of the state, as a steady supply of funding for California’s higher education system. California governor Jerry Brown proposes sending $500 million to community colleges across the state.

Another way California is looking to broaden its educational horizons is to incorporate a statewide online college learning system called the Online Education Initiative in community colleges, writes David Raths of Campus Technology. The idea is to significantly increase the amount of students who receive associate degrees and transfer to four-year colleges and universities. It would be free to community colleges and paid for and centralized by the state. The service would include free online tutoring to students and a 24/7 adjunct faculty help line.

Right now, the state is looking into different options and contractors for the new system — nothing short of a major undertaking.

“‘We have begun the search for a course management system partner,’Moreau added. ‘And that is just one piece. We are envisioning a portal environment that in one single space has planning tools, assessment tools, counseling, online tutoring. And perhaps even other pieces that may not have been invented yet.’ Another possibility might be to have a repository of model course content faculty members could adapt to their own use.”

They hope to have the Online Education Initiative up and running and available for student use by June 2015.