By Isaiah Jurado
The governing boards of the California Community College and the California legislature have recently acknowledged the need for more bachelor degrees in technical fields by allowing selected community colleges to offer 4 year degrees in what Community College Chancellor Brice Harris calls “an historic day in our system.”
This comes after last September when Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that would allow 15 community colleges to offer pilot degrees. This is not a new program, as 21 other states already offer degrees through community colleges as California tries to catch up to the curve.
In total, 34 community colleges applied to start offering bachelor’s degrees, and 15 were chosen. The pilot program is to be offered starting 2017-2018 academic year and last till at least 2022-2023.
The purpose for this bill is an estimated need for 1 million bachelor’s degrees in the workforce by 2025. Generally, these degrees are in technical fields where the demand for highly trained workers continues to grow. Some of the degrees that will be offered include mortuary work, ranch management and consumer technology.
California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris, one of the major proponents of the bill, expresses the benefits of this new program, “Employers in California seek candidates with advanced credentials and many struggle to fill positions in some of the fields that will be covered under the new program,” Harris says. “This law will help us to meet California’s work force needs, does not duplicate CSU or UC degree programs and gives more Californians access to affordable higher education that can enable them to obtain well-paying jobs.”
According to the bill, it will offer degrees that are not currently offered in the UC and CSU systems. The finalization of the bill is set to take place in March after consulting with the two other school systems. Furthermore, a similar number of credits and GE courses will be required, and the rigor is supposed to be comparable to the two other systems. However, it will still be less expensive than other schools, even with an extra $84 added to baccalaureate courses.
But is this step simply a band-aid on a much deeper problem with California’s educational system?
Although this new policy is a step towards a better educating California, I don’t believe that this step is with the right foot.
First of all, California needs to focus foremost on providing affordable college education for all. The pilot degrees are great, but what about the 233,000 UC students and 447,000 CSU students who are subjected to the recent tuition hikes? Perhaps another way to create more degrees is to make education a little more affordable for the majority. Before we start offering more degrees, we need to offer students a price tag they can afford.
Secondly, how will these colleges that have been approved to offer the courses deal with the mass amount of students who will try to get into the program? Although the implementation of a large scale degree program is unlikely to happen this quickly, I see 15 community colleges that are most likely already impacted about to gain more attention than they can handle. When I was a community college student I drove 40 miles each school day because the school I chose had a better transfer rate than my local schools and had more availability of classes. Imagine how far a student will drive for a 4 year degree? I believe that all 34 contending schools should have been accepted, but I’m sure there were valid reasons for only 15.
Finally, the bill in large seems more work oriented than educational. Yes it offers degrees, but to whom and why? Yes there are students who wish to pursue the specific degrees being offered, but the majority of Community College students are not interested in those fields. The majority of Community College students are looking to transfer. This program is to create more workers, not more students.
All this does is provide California with sufficient means to make status quo. We are playing catch up when we should be leading the pack.
Overall the program may seem great; anytime education is being made more accessible is a good thing. But, don’t be fooled into thinking that this change is going to fix the higher educational problems in California.