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Community colleges to grant four-year degrees

Primary Day

Select California community colleges will begin offering four-year degrees after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Sunday that seeks to aid the state’s effort to produce one million more college graduates in the next decade.

The pilot program, established by SB 850, is set to begin in Fall 2017. It will allow 15 community college districts to each offer one baccalaureate program in subjects not currently covered by the California State University or University of California systems.

The program aims to equip students with degrees in underserved work sectors for a total tuition cost of $10,000 – under half the cost of getting the degree at a CSU.

However, Fresno City College, the biggest community college in the Central Valley, has no plans to offer four-year degrees according to Kathy Bonilla, the college’s public information officer.

“At this point, Fresno City College is not going to actively pursue one of the degrees,” Bonilla said. “They are only going to choose 15 and very specific programs.  It will take some time to put a program together, so we won’t be part of it at this time.”

Dental hygiene, industrial technology, allied health technology, emergency medical technician and health data management degrees are some of the offerings currently imagined by the community colleges.

“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, the California Community College chancellor.

California is expected to be short one million baccalaureate degrees of its workforce’s needs by 2025, according to The Public Policy Institute of California and California Competes report.

“We are in a fast-paced race that we can’t afford to lose,” said Marty Block (D-San Diego), the state senator who proposed the legislation.

“It’s wishful thinking to believe we can meet the challenge of producing another 60,000 bachelor degrees each year without using community colleges, and the longer we delay in using them, the further behind we will fall.”

The districts participating in the program will be selected by Harris with consultation being provided by the UC and CSU systems. The program will be evaluated in 2018, and will end in 2023 if not extended by the legislature.

The law represents one of the few changes to the degree offerings set up by the state’s Master Plan for Higher Education over 50 years ago. Annually, 2.1 million students attend 112 community colleges in California.

Community colleges in 21 other states already offer baccalaureate degrees.