A 16-member panel is considering a proposal that would allow community colleges in California to offer four year degrees for specified majors.
The Chancellor of the California community college system, Brice Harris, has assembled a baccalaureate degree study group to survey the demands and cost of the degree programs this proposal will implement. They are also bearing in mind the effects of diverging from the community college system’s traditional role. If the proposal is passed, California would follow in the footsteps of other states who have already approved baccalaureate programs at community colleges.
The 16 member panel, which includes representatives from the University of California and Cal State systems will make suggestions to Harris in December. From there, if the system’s governing board accepts the suggestions, a proposal will be brought forth to the state legislature, the governor and an accrediting commission authorized by the U.S. Department of Education for approval.
With more than 2.3 million students across 112 campuses, California’s community college system is the largest higher education system in the U.S.
Those who advocate the proposal said it is beneficial to students in rural areas who do not have access to a four-year university and it would address the shortage in workforce training. Supporters argue that the main reasoning behind the controversial decision would be that the community college board wants more students to graduate and have a better understanding of the career world.
Michael Morvice, president of the California Community College Student Affairs Association, believes it’s beneficial to provide students with additional options, “If there is a need in society, why not consider and review it?”
Those who disagree stated that it would break away from the traditional purpose of a two-year system.
Critics pointed out that the state’s Master Plan for Higher Education was implemented in the 1960s focusing on an “open for all campus” for careers and transfer students while a four-year university allowed focus on research and higher degrees.
“It’s a really bad idea, a really poor idea,” said Norton Grubb, professor emeritus at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education. “Community colleges have a lot to do already without having to work with baccalaureate programs.”
Grubb expressed that community colleges might be overshadowed by a baccalaureate degree option.
Several community college students expressed their opinions about the same problem they all encounter: an associate degree isn’t enough for a profession that progressively demands a bachelor’s.
Some UC and CSU education experts expressed that it could be a tricky balance. It was expressed that community college baccalaureate programs could actually help fill in the specific needs for local communities such as automotive, culinary arts or nursing.
“Provided they are offering bachelor’s degrees that other public institutions aren’t offering, particularly in applied technical areas,” said Davis Jenkins, senior research associate at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College.
“In general it doesn’t depart from the community college mission because they were designed to meet community needs.”
Senator Marty Block, agrees. In 2011, he proposed a similar pilot program to permit Grossmont-Cuyamaca and San Mateo County community districts to offer selective bachelor’s degrees where workforce needs were at a high demand. He pulled the proposal because of budget concerns.
“Times have changed and we have a small surplus,” said Block. “As the education budget chair in the Senate, I think I can find pools of funding. It gives me hope that a similar bill at this time would be successful.”