Fifteen schools in California have been chosen to be the state's first community colleges to offer bachelor's degrees.
The move is part of a pilot program designed to boost the economy and help students avoid for-profit programs that can be costly. Before the fall of 2017, colleges throughout the state will offer degrees in high-need fields like automotive technology, bio-manufacturing, emergency services, airframe manufacturing, and mortuary science.
These are sectors which are hiring, but need workers who are better-skilled, according to college officials. Nannette Asimov of SFGate writes that students are already getting excited about the changes.
"It's time for us to advance in our profession," said Heather Esparza, who helps sick babies breathe as a respiratory therapist at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. She has a string of life-and-death responsibilities and is licensed to teach doctors and nurses about resuscitating the sickest children — yet there is a hole in her own education. "My New Year's resolution was to get my bachelor's degree," Esparza said. "There's a lot more to learn. I can't wait."
California's state community college chancellor Bruce Harris is jubilant. Each school chosen will offer one bachelor's program in the areas of health, science, and technology that is not available at California State University or the University of California.
Twenty-one other states have community colleges that offer bachelor's degrees.
The pilot initiative will run until 2023 and is already shaking up California's Master Plan for Higher Education, which, for 54 years, has overseen the separate roles of California's three higher education systems. Until now, community colleges offered only two-year associate's degrees or vocational certificates. Now, with growing demands in the health, science, and technology industries, some students' only option is for-profit schools, which proponents of the program say are costly and of questionable quality.
Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego), who authored the bill, adds that the state will need 1 million more workers with bachelor's degrees by 2025. Under the law, students will pay an additional $84 per unit for their upper-division courses and $46 per unit for community college classes. Other courses offered will include: dental hygiene, respiratory care, and allied health systems.
The Associated Press and NBC Bay Area's Marianne Favro say that this new plan comes as California's higher education institutions have suffered deep cuts in budgets which resulted in limited enrollment and course choices, both of which made student graduation more difficult. The Board of Governors in Sacramento will give its final approval on the selected colleges in March. The 15 winning programs will also have to be reviewed by UC and CSU and approved by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.
U-T San Diegoâs Gary Warth quotes one of the chosen community college presidents:
"I think for us, it's beyond exciting," said Mesa College President Pamela Luster. "We do so many things in our community with so many students to get them out in the workforce, and this opens another door of access for them to get a higher education. It's just a remarkable opportunity for us, our students and our community."
The board made their decisions on the 15 initial colleges based on geography, diversity of proposed programs, the institution's resources for establishing a quality program, and the need of the local or statewide workforce.