California Community Colleges to Offer Bachelor’s Degrees

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill this week that could dramatically shift higher education in California — a bill that will allow up to 15 community colleges to offer bachelor's degrees in the vocational fields, writes Alexei Koseff of The Sacramento Bee. Twenty-one other states have community college baccalaureates, but California's two-year colleges have granted only two-year associate degrees, as was established in the 50- year-old Master Plan for Higher Education. Senate Bill 850 will allow community colleges to experiment with the four-year degrees program, and begin the pilot program beginning no later than the 2017-2018 academic year and end in 2024.

Instead of expanding existing programs at community colleges, Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego), author of the bill, says that SB 850 boosts the focus on job training and makes the state's higher education system more accessible and affordable.

At the same time, the governor rejected extra funding for the state's financially strapped state university systems, writes Sharon Bernstein of Reuters. The extra funding amounted to $100 million for the two systems. The money was to be used to improve the schools' aging infrastructure and was a part of a deal with the legislature, but only if tax revenues came in above what was expected. The legislature appropriated the money anyway, much to the governor's chagrin. Gov. Brown said that was a foolhardy decision when there are unanticipated costs like the state's wildfires.

Some community college officials made supportive comments, according to KCRA-TV.

"I think it's a significant change in California higher education and certainly one for the better," said California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris.

"The more knowledge that you have in any field, the better pay that you can get," said David Statham, a welding student at Yuba College, in Marysville.

Yuba College officials say they are considering a bachelor's program in either agricultural manufacturing or automotive technology. Harris added that the community colleges which will offer four-year programs will be determined by the Community Colleges board of governors. The law does not allow them to create programs that already exist at University of California or California State University campuses. Harris said it will be possible to complete a bachelor's degree in one of these new programs for a little more than $10,000.

This plan has broad support, with dozens of colleges hoping they will be added to the roster, according to Nannette Asimov of SFGate. Skyline College would like to offer a B.A. in respiratory therapy; Cañada College would like to offer radiologic technology or medical imaging; and the College of San Mateo could cover a bachelor's degree in dental hygiene.

"Employers in California seek candidates with advanced credentials, and many struggle to fill positions in some of the fields that will be covered under the new program," said Brice Harris, chancellor of California community colleges, who credited the new law with expanding access to higher education without competing with CSU or UC.

Under the program, class credit costs would be $84 a credit for upper-division courses and the regular price of $46 a credit for lower-division classes. The 15 chosen colleges will be judged by the state chancellor's office, along with a consultation with UC and CSU. Each chosen college will be allowed only one program, and the program will have to be approved by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

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