An Argument for Expanding Baccalaureate Degree Programs in the California Community Colleges

ASCCC Vice President

For almost 60 years, since the creation of the California Master Plan for Higher Education in 1960, California community colleges have focused on serving students seeking lower division course work and career technical training. During that time, while focus on other areas of study has been diminished, including much of life-long learning and, more recently, much in remediation and basic skills, additional elements have rarely been added to the mission of the California community colleges. The potential for the mission to change began in 2010 when legislation was introduced to potentially add baccalaureate degrees to the options available to community college students. In Resolution 6.01 S10, the delegates at the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges Spring Plenary Session rejected this idea, making clear that such action would call for an expansion of the community colleges’ mission. [1] The proposed bill, AB 2400 by Assemblymember Anderson, failed to garner support and event‑‑‑‑
ually failed, but the call for baccalaureate degrees in the California Community College System continued.

In 2014, Senator Marty Block introduced SB 850 calling for the creation of a pilot program for baccalaureate degrees at community colleges around the state. Senator Block noted at the time that baccalaureate programs existed in community colleges in 21 states and that California would face a shortfall of educated professionals in fields including health, biotechnology, and other needed occupations. Despite the ASCCC’s continued opposition to the expansion of the system’s mission, the bill passed and was signed into law. Once the bill was signed, the ASCCC worked to assist colleges that were chosen to participate in the Baccalaureate Degree Pilot, providing guidance in areas such as general education, minimum qualifications, and expectations around accreditation.

In the five years since Senator Block’s bill became law, 15 colleges from around the state have developed baccalaureate programs in fields including dental hygiene, mortuary science, biotechnology, health information systems, and others. These programs have now gone through at least one full cycle of students from enrollment to graduation, with many of them completing two cycles, and the results appear promising in many areas. More than two hundred students have graduated with degrees in fields in which industry standards are increasingly calling for a baccalaureate degree, enabling them to apply for jobs for which they previously might not have qualified. This success, while still preliminary, leads to three questions: should the ASCCC remove its opposition to the baccalaureate degrees, should the pilot notation for the programs be eliminated, and should the programs be expanded? At this time, the answers to all of these questions should be a resounding yes.

The ASCCC opposition to the baccalaureate programs was initially logged almost a decade ago, long before anyone knew what would happen with many of the industries in which baccalaureate programs are being offered. As more majors are requiring baccalaureate degrees for job applicants to be successful, the ASCCC should not oppose the creation of programs designed to allow students more opportunities for employment and advancement. At the 2019 ASCCC Fall Plenary, a resolution will be presented asking the delegates to reverse the position taken in 2010 and to allow the ASCCC to continue its work around the baccalaureate degrees.

In addition, the word “pilot” needs to be removed from these programs. Colleges have invested time and energy, both in terms of faculty and administrative efforts, to make these programs successful. The word pilot implies that these programs may not remain consistent or may suddenly be eliminated, which may preclude students from wanting to enroll in them. The costs of the baccalaureate programs remain largely in human resources rather than in other areas such as equipment, as many of the courses in the upper division of the programs are centered in areas such as theory rather than in practicum and labs. These programs should now be made a permanent part of the colleges at which they are located, and removing the word pilot would indicate this intent.

Given the success of the baccalaureate programs, the time has come for them to be expanded. Senator Block’s legislation allowed for the creation of 15 pilot programs, with no more than one per district. Therefore, while some colleges were allowed to create a baccalaureate program, most were not, and those that were allowed to do so were only allowed to create one. Demand in many fields, especially those in allied health, far exceeds what is available coming out of other colleges and universities in the state. Students seeking a baccalaureate are often forced to enroll in a for-profit institution or to travel out of state because no program is available at their local community colleges. This situation does a disservice to students: it forces them to go into debt, to potentially leave the state, or, in a worst-case scenario, for them to not able to continue their educational endeavors because these doors are closed to them.

The mission of the California Community College System is to provide access and success to all students who seek to learn; not allowing colleges to create baccalaureate programs to their full ability means the system is failing in that mission. Ultimately, while the ASCCC’s original stance was to oppose the baccalaureate degrees due to concerns about the mission of the California community colleges, one can now argue that allowing for the expansion of these programs is in fact absolutely in keeping with the mission: to educate students and provide them with the skills and knowledge needed to be the future of California’s workforce.