Bachelor’s Degrees a possibility for Junior Clolleges

Rikard Kohler, Staff Writer

New legislation passed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 28 could allow Glendale College the possibility of offering baccalaureate degrees in specific areas; however, state requirements and funding limit the options.

The pilot program, which would allow community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees primarily within workforce and development career programs, would start in the 2017-2018 school year.  California will be the 22nd state in the country to offer community college bachelor’s degrees.

“I think it is just a natural extension of the way we have been moving,” said Glendale College Board of Trustees President Vahé Peroomian.

California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris said in a press release that this legislation would help make higher education more affordable to Californians, which would help them get better paying jobs and meet the state’s workforce needs.

Glendale College Academic Senate President Andrew Young explained that California needs an additional 60,000 baccalaureate degrees per year by 2025. The state predicts that the established four-year institutions would have a hard time reaching this goal, which would require an approximate 40 percent increase in baccalaureate degrees.

As a result, the state aims to meet the projected demand by  allowing community colleges to offer baccalaureate degrees.

Out of the state’s 112 community colleges, only 15 schools would be allowed to offer bachelor’s degrees. However, other rules and regulations further limit schools’ possible baccalaureate program options.

“One of the requirements is that the baccalaureate degree meet an unmet local workforce economic development need,” said Superintendent/President David Viar. “So that means one has to look real closely at where there are workforce needs, where a baccalaureate degree might be expected or wanted, and is not available.”

The state further limits community colleges’ options, not allowing them to offer baccalaureate programs that exist on any UC or CSU campus or having them propose more than one baccalaureate program prospect.

Community colleges statewide consider programs within areas beneficial to their communities, like dental hygiene, nursing and radiation technology. However, they face the challenge of finding programs that are not already covered by Cal State or UC universities.

“There is an actual need for bachelor’s degrees in nursing, but since it exists at UC and Cal State campuses, it is prohibited,” said Young.

Viar explained that the college’s Academic Senate, representing the college’s faculty, is exploring the possibility of a Fire Sciences baccalaureate program.

“That could tie to our Verdugo Fire Academy,” Viar said.

However, state regulations could obstruct the plan. According to Firescience.org, a Fire Services Administration program is already established at Cal State L.A., which would prevent Glendale College from offering a baccalaureate program in that discipline.

Other programs the Academic Senate may consider expanding is Water Resources Technology and Advanced Manufacturing.

Still, Viar said that expanding these to baccalaureate programs will be difficult, as neighboring colleges have more developed Water Resources Programs. He also questioned the community need to expand Glendale College’s Advanced Manufacturing program.

However, it is not just state regulations holding the college back. Viar expressed concerns about how much the state would help with the funding of a baccalaureate program.

“Can we do everything if we are not provided with sufficient support?” Viar asked.

Starting up a baccalaureate program is expensive, as it includes hiring new faculty and equipment, and the school has to consider if the costs are worth it.

State law prohibits community colleges from charging more than $46 per unit, and upper-level courses, for students pursuing bachelor degrees, would cost $84. Without additional money from the state, funding such a program presents a challenge.

“In most cases we [community colleges] are asked to expand, but then not really given additional money to do that,” Viar said.

The college’s faculty also question the community need for a bachelor’s degree when the options are very limited. Because the programs will be very specific and limited, it is not likely that many students will pursue a bachelor’s degree at a community college.

Some might think that a bachelor’s program from a UC or CSU campus is more substantial than a similar program offered at a community college, but Viar challenges this.

“I think any community college that chooses to step forward to offer a baccalaureate degree in a distinct area, where it already has faculty members and a general program in place, will measure up equally to any CSU or even a UC,” Viar said.

Considering all the limitations, Viar explained that the chance that Glendale will be one of the 15 picked colleges, out of the 112 schools in the state, is not likely.

“I think it is a long shot,” Viar said. “[But] that has nothing to do with the outstanding quality of our programs, it just has to do with the limits that have been placed on what we can offer to the state.”

Still, nothing is set until the college sends the state a Certification of Interest, a notice letting the state know the college’s interest, which is due Nov. 12. After that, it remains to be seen what colleges the state picks to be in the program.