On Thursday, California’s Legislature unanimously approved legislation that would allow some of the state’s community colleges to issue baccalaureate degrees. Governor Jerry Brown will now consider SB 850. If signed by the governor, California will be the 22nd state to allow community colleges to offer four-year degrees.
Proponents of the bill suggest California needs to produce at least one million more baccalaureate degrees to remain economically competitive. The bill states California’s four-year public institutions cannot meet the demand and community colleges can help fill the gaps. The bill was introduced by Senator Marty Block (D-San Diego) who says, “this is landmark legislation that will change the face of higher education in California.” Senator Mark Wyland (R-Escondido) gave the example of the Nursing program at San Diego State University. He said there were approximately 300 freshman students who wanted to enter the Nursing program, but only about 70 spaces. He says the bill “is a viable way to help people, many from backgrounds who otherwise would not have [the] opportunity.”
The bill would allow the community colleges system to establish a pilot program that would allow no more than 15 community colleges to offer baccalaureate degrees. Each community college would only be permitted to offer one baccalaureate degree program. The bill does not designate specific community colleges or programs. Instead, the bill requires community college districts to seek approval from the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges. When seeking approval, community colleges districts must show unmet workforce needs in the subject area they wish to offer in the local community or region. Community colleges could start offering baccalaureate degrees as early as 2015.