Defining the CCC Baccalaureate Degree

ASCCC Secretary and Baccalaureate Degree Task Force Chair
Former ASCCC South Representative, Baccalaureate Degree Task Force Vice-Chair
Baccalaureate Degree Task Force member, Pasadena City College

On September 28, 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 850 (Block, 2015) authorizing the Board of Governors of the California’s Community Colleges (BOG), in consultation with representatives of the California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC), to establish a statewide baccalaureate degree pilot program at no more than 15 California Community Colleges. By May 2015, the Board of Governor had selected 15 pilot college colleges which meeting weekly to help each other prepare the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) substantial change forms and to discuss a variety of issues with the Chancellor’s Office.

In Fall 2014, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges passed two resolutions, 9.04 Faculty Inclusion in Development and Implementation of Community College Baccalaureate Degree and 09.05 General Education Patterns for Community College Baccalaureate Degrees.  Resolution 9.04 directed that the ASCCC work with the Chancellor’s Office and local senates to ensure that community college faculty are appropriately represented on all task forces and other bodies, including any local committees, involved with the development and implementation of the community college baccalaureate degree pilot program and that the ASCCC collaborate with the Chancellor’s Office to establish parameters and standards for the California Community College Baccalaureate Degree before any degree is approved by the Chancellor’s Office. Resolution 9.05 recommended that we work with the Intersegmental Committee of the Academic Senates (ICAS) to define the expectations for lower division and upper division general education coursework and communicate the expectations for transfer general education and non-transfer general education.  This resolution also established the ASCCC position that any baccalaureate degree created in the California community colleges must include upper division general education requirements comparable with those offered by the California State University.

From the time that Governor Brown signed AB 850, the Chancellor’s Office has consistently acknowledged that in areas that impact academic and professional matters, the ASCCC should take the leading role in establishing the parameters of the community college bachelor’s degrees.  Such areas include general education requirements at upper and lower division levels, definitions of upper division coursework, minimum qualifications for faculty, and required student services. The Academic Senate has embraced this responsibility and has been actively shaping discussions in these areas since the pilot colleges were selected.

Progress to Date

Beginning in April 2015 the ASCCC formed a task force to work with the Chancellor’s Office and the pilot colleges in setting parameters for the degrees. This task force includes ASCCC Executive Committee members as well as faculty representatives from general education, basic skills, counseling, articulation, career technical education, and the pilot colleges and a Chancellor’s Office representative. The task force presented at the CTE Leadership Institute in May 2015, the Bachelor’s Degree Summit hosted by the Chancellor’s office for pilot colleges in June 2015, and the ASCCC Curriculum Institute in July 2015 to gather feedback on baccalaureate degree programs and what offering a Baccalaureate degree means.

The ASCCC has also had communication with other public degree granting institutions at the system level.  The CSU system is struggling with responses to the community college bachelor’s degrees and has not yet been able to offer significant support to the conversations regarding the pilot program.  The UC system has been more encouraging and is watching the progress of the pilot quite closely.  

The task force has based its discussions on some foundational assumptions:

  • Bachelor’s degrees offered by the CCCs must be at least equivalent in breadth, rigor, and utility to bachelor’s degrees offered by any other public college or university in the State of California;
  • Bachelor’s degrees offered by CCCs should serve as appropriate preparation for the workforce and for further educational goals; and
  • CCC bachelor’s degrees are not ‘applied’ bachelor’s degrees. In other words, the degree is not intended to be a terminal degree but a stepping stone for students’ educational goals. 

Working from these assumptions, the task force discussed upper division coursework definition, upper division GE requirements, minimum qualifications, support services needed, and admission and articulation with universities. 

Through these discussions and in consultation with the pilot colleges, the task force has moved closer to establishing parameters for the degrees. At a very broad level, the task force has concluded that a bachelor’s degree should include a minimum 120 units, lower division sets a foundation for the field, and upper division should reflect more currency in the field of study than foundational lower division.  More specifically, the task force has drafted the following parameters for consideration:

  • Upper division units should require lower division knowledge and apply that knowledge as demonstrated measures of critical thinking through writing, oral communication, and computation. Critical thinking may encompass research elements and upper division requirements may include workforce training and an apprenticeship.  A minimum 24 upper division semester units could require practicum or capstone projects. This recommendation if adopted would set a minimum threshold written into Title 5. 
  • Regarding lower-division general education requirements, the task force has recommended IGETC or CSU-GE Breadth required for lower division general education.  Faculty throughout the state have expressed broad acceptance of this requirement to date. 
  • The task force has discussed a minimum of six required semester units from two different disciplines of upper division general education that broadens the worldview of the students and is dependent on lower division general education knowledge and reflects current issues or trends in the field as appropriate. One of these courses must have an emphasis in written communication, oral communication, or computation. The same rules used in the IGETC Standards document to fulfill areas of general education would apply.  This recommendation if adopted would set a minimum threshold written into Title 5. 
  • The task force made recommendations regarding faculty minimum qualifications.  The pilot disciplines are fields that generally do not fall on the master’s degree list.  Given that, the task force recommends the following:
    • The instructor of record must have any Master’s degree AND two years of experience in the field AND appropriate licensure.

    • Any Bachelor’s degree AND 6 years of experience in the field AND appropriate licensure. 

Higher standards may be implemented by local colleges or required by external programmatic accrediting bodies.  The recommendation explicitly leaves off the usual ending of or the equivalent.  The recommendations appear to have broad support thus far and would be written into the faculty qualifications guidelines as a minimum threshold. 

  • The task force discussed a possible recommendation to local colleges regarding eligibility requirements to begin bachelor’s program:
    • Year 1. Students in these programs must be college ready:  eligible for freshman composition and college level mathematics and fulfilled local reading competency requirement.
    • Year 3 might include the completion of IGETC or CSU GE-Breadth, local reading competency, and lower division discipline requirements with a minimum of 2.0 GPA.

The recommendations regarding this last bullet would be written in Title 5 as permissible limitations on enrollment, not required. 

Ongoing Conversations

One area that remains to be resolved regards the ASCCC position that the system should “ensure that the bachelor degrees being offered were not seen as applied degrees in the sense that they are considered terminal.” With many CTE degrees offered by community colleges in other states, students are prepared for the workforce and are not expected to pursue many educational pursuits beyond this initial training.  In addition, the concept of the applied degree at the associate level carries connotations that are similar to the use of the term “vocational,” and the ASCCC hopes to avoid any connection to past stigmatization of the inherent occupational educational mission.  

In describing the purpose of the baccalaureate degree in the California community colleges, the Chancellor’s Office accurately noted the SB850 legislation that described the rationale for the 15 pilots.  The bill would require participating community college districts to meet specified requirements, including but not limited to offering baccalaureate degree programs and program curricula not offered by the California State University or the University of California and in subject areas with unmet workforce needs, as specified:

Section 1.

The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:

(a) California needs to produce one million more baccalaureate degrees than the state currently produces to remain economically competitive in the coming decades.

(b) The 21st century workplace increasingly demands a higher level of education in applied fields.

(c) There is demand for education beyond the associate degree level in specific academic disciplines that is not currently being met by California’s four-year public institutions.

Based on this language, the Chancellor’s Office challenged the ASCCC’s decision to not use the term applied and almost implied that the ASCCC was shying away from the inherent workforce implications.  They then used Section 1 (b) above to draw a proportional relationship with the need for advanced education in applied fields and the use of the term Applied Baccalaureate Degrees. 

Given the ASCCC position, the task force will urge caution with the language used so that pilot programs are not limited by past perceptions of vocational studies. Any student who earns a bachelor’s degree in the California public education system should be considered to have achieved the equivalent of any other student with the same level of degree.  No degree structure should be associated with a type of learning or instructional methodology the development of our pilot programs.  The description of a program may consist of explanations of the value of applied learning and instruction in our degree programs, but the system should work toward establishing these degrees within a dynamic new paradigm of what CTE is today and can be tomorrow, where a student earning a baccalaureate degree with a CTE major emphasis could consider graduate preparation in addition to workforce goals. For the benefit of our students, community colleges should create a baccalaureate degree program that considers the possibility of a future need for advanced educational preparation. 

The other area of concern among approximately half of the pilot colleges is the use of IGETC or CSU GE Breadth as the lower division general education preparation for these degrees.  Roughly half the pilot colleges created their proposal using their local associate degree patterns. However, the other half of the pilot colleges already uses the IGETC or CSU GE Breadth.  Given that the system as a whole and the public already understand IGETC and the CSU GE Breadth, the system needs to consider this issue very carefully. With 113 colleges that might all eventually offer bachelor’s degrees and the system needs to ensure that degrees created through the pilot program are recognized as equal to our other system partners.    Further, our collective educational systems are increasingly pressured to move students through faster, to evaluate and often minimize expectations outside of major’s preparation, and to waive requirements or award credit for prior knowledge.  External forces often question the value of requirements outside of major preparation, and general education is viewed as an additional hoop impeding student progress.  

Yet while employers rank technical knowledge seventh among the most important qualities in a new employee, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers in their October 2013 survey[1], the following skills are also included in the top ten:

  • Ability to work in a team structure
  • Ability to make decisions and solve problems
  • Ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work
  • Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization
  • Ability to obtain and process information
  • Ability to analyze quantitative data
  • Proficiency with computer software programs
  • Ability to create and/or edit written reports
  • Ability to sell or influence others

This list demonstrates the value of general education: we teach all these skills in our curriculum.  This situation offers an opportunity for a conversation about the value of general education and how that value should translate so that students, the public, and the legislature are able to directly see those linkages. 

What’s Next?

The ASCCC task force has plans for more conversations through October and will present a plan to the field by the Fall 2015 Plenary Session in November.  At that time, all proposals will be voted on for approval by delegates to the plenary in order to establish the ASCCC’s final recommendations regarding the parameters of the community college bachelor’s degrees.  The ASCCC will work with the Chancellor’s Office to make any necessary Title 5 changes to accommodate new mission extension. The ASCCC will also continue to consider what support curriculum committees and college senates need in regard to creating these degrees. 

While at this time decisions regarding the bachelor’s degrees may seem to impact only the 15 pilot colleges, members of the legislature have explicitly stated that the purpose of this pilot is to prove that these degrees can be successful and then to expand the program accordingly.  For this reason, faculty at all colleges in the system must remain informed regarding the pilot and help to shape the efforts of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges to make sound and long-range decisions about these academic and professional matters.