A limited number of California community colleges can now offer four-year degrees, thanks to a bill signed into law Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Senate Bill 850, introduced by State Senator Marty Block (D-San Diego), allows up to 15 community college districts offer one baccalaureate degree program each in select majors. The pilot program starts on Jan. 1, 2015 and ends July 1, 2023.
The law states California needs to produce one million more bachelor’s degrees than it does now to “remain economically competitive in coming decades.” But many four-year colleges do not offer degrees in disciplines like radiology, respiratory therapy and veterinary technology.
According to the state legislature, careers that once required just an associate’s degree or certificate now want prospective employees to have a baccalaureate degree.
"This is landmark legislation that is a game changer for California's higher education system and our workforce preparedness," Block said in a statement. "SB 850 boosts the focus of our community colleges on job training and increasing the accessibility and affordability of our state's higher education system."
Each district that wants to offer a four-year degree will have to identify and document the community’s unmet needs in that subject, and it cannot offer a program already presented by the California State University or University of California.
One district that will most likely enter the running is the San Diego Community College District, whose chancellor, Constance M. Carroll, served on the state’s study group.
"Our entire coalition of supporters is delighted by this good news," said Carroll. "It is imperative for community colleges to ensure that students are well prepared and competitive for the many jobs and careers that now require bachelor's degrees as entry-level preparation.”
She called the bill one of the most significant changes to California’s higher education master plan since its 1960 adoption.
Carroll said four-year programs offered could include dental hygiene, radiologic technology, health information science and automotive technology. Each upper-division class will cost an extra $84 per unit, less than fees paid by CSU students, according to the SDCCD.
Success for the pilot program will depend on completion rates, the costs and funding sources, the impact on underserved and underprepared students and how many districts apply.
The results of an evaluation, due before July 1, 2022, will determine if the program should have a permanent place in the state’s education system.