You may have heard that California Community Colleges are going to be able to offer Bachelor’s degrees soon. SB 850, which authorized a very limited pilot program for bachelor’s degrees to be offered within the California Community College system, was signed into law by Governor Brown on September 28, 2014. Almost immediately, articles started to appear in newspapers and on the web suggesting that community college bachelor’s degrees were going to be widely available any day now. Glendale Community College was getting calls from individuals wanting information on the new bachelor’s degree programs the day after the bill was signed into law, with some of the callers expecting that new degrees were already available.
Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is much different. The law authorizes the California Community College system, as of January 1, 2015, “to establish a statewide baccalaureate degree pilot program at not more than 15 community college districts, with one baccalaureate degree program each.” There are 72 California Community College districts, so it is already a bit of a longshot that Glendale would be selected as one of the 15 participating districts.
Further, the degrees would have to cover “curricula not offered by the California State University or the University of California, and in subject areas with unmet workforce needs.” This dramatically restricts the programs a community college could offer to essentially just CTE (Career and Technical Education) fields that are new, highly specialized, and/or simply not prominent enough to have attracted the attention of the CSU or UC systems.
Even if a college is selected for the pilot, developing a new Bachelor’s degree is a non-trivial project. To be comparable to Bachelor’s degrees offered by other colleges and universities, each proposed degree will require the development of at least 40 semester units (perhaps 10 to 15 classes) of new upper-division coursework. This alone could involve hundreds of hours of faculty effort.
Even if the content of all the necessary upper-division courses required for one of these new Bachelor’s degrees was already identified and written up, getting the necessary local and state approvals for new curriculum would normally take about a year. Given that neither the individual California Community Colleges nor the CCC Chancellor’s office has ever created or approved any upper-division coursework, and that there will be potentially hundreds of new courses that will need to be approved to support 15 new degrees, this process could take significantly longer. It may even be difficult to meet the timeline required for starting these programs.
SB 850 requires that each program “commence by the beginning of the 2017–18 academic year, and would require a student participating in a baccalaureate degree pilot program to complete his or her degree by the end of the 2022–23 academic year.” This last part makes the pilot program a limited-time offer. Unless a subsequent law is passed extending the program (or making it permanent), the entire authorization for the pilot program would be automatically repealed on January 1, 2024.
The funding mechanism for these new programs is also not yet determined. The Chancellor’s office has until March 15, 2015 to define this. All we know so far is that a participating district can “charge a fee for upper division coursework in a baccalaureate degree pilot program of eighty-four dollars ($84) per unit.” This is generally being interpreted as being in addition to the $46 per unit that community college’s charge for their current lower-division credit courses. That sounds promising, but it is not yet clear whether there is any new money that will be allocated to support these programs, or whether they will require a shift in funding from current programs.
So, you might ask, who in their right mind would want to do all the work required to develop and offer a degree that could just disappear again in 2024, and that may not represent any significant new revenue? Actually, I expect that most community college districts will still see this as an attractive prospect, if only for the bragging rights. As we compete more and more with our neighboring districts for students, being one of only a small number of California Community Colleges who are allowed to offer a Bachelor’s degree could enhance the general image and raise the profile of the college, and may attract students who otherwise might see all community colleges as interchangeable.
In order to more fully investigate the opportunity to offer a Bachelor’s degree locally, the GCC Academic Senate has established a task force to look into this, with a mandate to investigate:
1) Whether GCC is eligible to participate in the state pilot program,
2) Which local programs might be eligible and appropriate for such a pilot, and
3) The pros and cons of participating in such a pilot program.
They will have to work fast. The first deadline colleges interested in participating in this pilot program face is selecting ONE program that they will propose for their Bachelor’s degree. This must be submitted to the Chancellor’s office by November 12, 2014. This seems an unreasonably short timeline for such an important decision (since they only notified the districts of that requirement on October 22), but this is the world in which we live.
You can expect to hear more about this as things unfold and details become available. Stay tuned.
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