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New state legislation extends a pilot program that allows community colleges to offer baccalaureate degrees and allows colleges to increase the number of programs they offer from 15 to 30 per academic year.

Assembly Bill 927, signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Oct. 6, makes baccalaureate programs currently being piloted at 15 community colleges permanent, and allows other community colleges to establish similar programs. The programs must fill different workforce needs than programs already available within the state’s university systems.

“Almost two dozen former mortuary science students, having graduated with either a certificate or associate in science previously, returned to Cypress College in pursuit of our baccalaureate degree.” And after graduating, “all students have received either promotions or salary increases, or both. Several decided to pursue graduate school, and at least two are interested in becoming faculty members themselves.”

–Jolena Grande, Professor of Mortuary Science at Cypress College

Jim DeKloe, professor of biological sciences and biotechnology at Solano Community College, is proud of the baccalaureate programs at Solano and MiraCosta College, which coordinated to offer biomanufacturing degrees. “We have been able to assemble a true educational pathway — articulated high school programs to Lab Assistant Certificate to Industrial Biotechnology Certificate, that lead to an associate degree, that flows seamlessly into our bachelor’s degree, and then into guaranteed admission into graduate school,” says the Solano College Faculty Association member.

The California Community Colleges (CCC) bachelor’s degree pilot program began in 2014 and was established to make it easier and more affordable for students to get their bachelor’s degree and to create more employment opportunities for students. The program addresses what California companies need in terms of skilled workers. At the time, the Legislature approved 11 programs ranging from biomanufacturing to dental hygiene at 15 colleges.

A Legislative Analyst’s Office report in January 2020, while noting the academic rigor of the program, finds its impact on employment to be mixed.

“We found little evidence that graduates from these pilot programs were better prepared to fill these positions compared to those with other bachelor’s degrees or that pilot program graduates were helping employers fill hard-to-staff positions,” states the report. “The most common benefit of the pilot cited by students was the relatively low cost of attending the community college bachelor’s degree programs.”

Indeed, tuition for a community college baccalaureate degree program is capped at $10,560 for all four years — an extraordinary bargain.

The new legislation comes during the COVID-19 pandemic, when California and the rest of the country have many job openings.

Community college administrators will now submit proposals for new four-year degrees to the CCC Chancellor’s Office. The proposals will be reviewed by the Chancellor’s Office, CSU and UC systems administrators, and the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities. The number of four-year programs offered by a community college district must not exceed a quarter of the number of the district’s associate degree programs.

Grande says that while the benefits of Cypress College’s four-year program in mortuary science outweigh the detriments, the latter were noteworthy. Among them: The level of interest exceeded available faculty and staff, which led to limiting the number of students so accreditation mandates and degree “outcomes” were not compromised. In addition, she and her colleagues found that “community college students need increasing levels of support as they continue on their pathway toward a bachelor’s degree. The number of hours necessary for counseling, course contemplation, and navigating the transition from college to work and back to class was underestimated.”

Photo at top: Rio Hondo College Celebrates Class of 2019; Awards Historic First Bachelor of Science Degrees

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