Advancing the Community College Baccalaureate Degree

By Larry Galizio, Ph.D.
President & CEO, Community College League of California

November 3, 2016

On November 1st, I participated in an Informational Hearing of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee on the status and implementation of Senator Marty Block’s 2014 legislation establishing the community college baccalaureate degree pilot program. The hearing took place at San Diego City College’s Corporate Education Center and was hosted by Chancellor Constance Carroll and the San Diego Community College District.

In addition to Chair Block, present were Subcommittee members and Senators Benjamin Allen (26th District) and Jerry Hill (13th District), as well as the Chair of the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee, Jose Medina (61st District).

The hearing included updates and perspectives on California’s demand for the baccalaureate degree, the status and next steps of SB 850 implementation and discussion of San Diego workforce needs.

Subcommittee members were engaged throughout the two and one-half hour hearing peppering panelists with questions on a wide variety of pertinent issues. Questions included: “What obstacles do colleges and districts face in establishing baccalaureate degree programs?” “Are we accurately defining duplication when considering where and when to launch community college baccalaureate degree programs?” “Why 15 pilot programs, why not 30”?

Dr. Patrick Murphy, Director of Research and Senior Fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), presented data and the analysis leading to the projection that by 2030 California will have a deficit of 1.1 to 1.4 million baccalaureate degree-holders needed to meet the demands of industry. PPIC policy papers detailing this information are available here:

PPIC cites demographic trends rather than technological and/or industry changes as the most significant factor driving this education attainment gap. With the most highly educated generation of US workers poised to retire over the next 20 years, the less-educated 25- to 34 year-olds following those born between 1946 and 1964 represents an historic and dramatic shift in California’s workforce population. PPIC estimates that should current trends persist, 38 percent of all jobs will depend on workers with at least a bachelor’s degree, however only 33 percent of workers will possess such a degree in 2030 (Johnson, Cuellar Mejia, Bohn, 2015).

Dr. Murphy and PPIC posit three “scenarios” to confront this education attainment gap: 1) Increase transfer rates from community colleges to CSU and UC; 2) Increase overall college degree attainment at all levels; 3) Increase completions at CSU and UC. Still, PPIC and Murphy admit that even if all three scenarios produce moderate increases in degrees in the coming years, California will still be approximately 600,000 short of the bachelor-degree educated individuals required to meet statewide demand.

In my own testimony considering our state’s need for bachelor degrees, I suggested that a necessary fourth approach includes establishment of the community college baccalaureate degree in our state. By joining the more than 20 states in the US that permit community colleges to confer baccalaureate degrees, California’s largest system of public higher education (as well as the nations), can more effectively confront the demographic and economic challenges that we face.

Moreover, concomitant to California’s industry demand for a more educated workforce is the necessity for our colleges and universities to offer students and families affordable, practical, quality baccalaureate degrees. California’s demand for the baccalaureate degree includes student and family demand for affordable, accessible, quality career technical education programs.

As demonstrated in UCLA’s Cooperative Institutional Research Program data from 2015, today’s students are more price sensitive in their choices to attend particular colleges and universities and more focused on securing a better financial future than incoming freshman have been in the past 50 years.

Following the discussion of the state’s demand for bachelor’s degrees, we heard from, among others, Grossmont President Nabil Abu-Ghazaleh, who described the educational and economic context and the need for a community college bachelor’s degree in Nursing; a fact reiterated by Chancellor Carroll in response to a question about the most needed community college baccalaureate programs.

Vice Chancellor Pam Walker provided a densely packed and highly informative overview of the process leading to the selection of the 15 pilot programs under SB 850, the required work at the Chancellor’s Office to assist colleges in implementing them, and a host of pertinent issues concerning the nuts and bolts of implementation – including ongoing and future requirements of the pilot.

Finally, Chancellor Carroll, Superintendent/President Sunny Cook, and CSU Fullerton Distinguished Faculty member Ding-Jo Currie, offered their perspectives and experiences on a variety of significant issues surrounding the past, present, and future of SB 850 and the community college baccalaureate. The discussion included information on San Diego Mesa College’s experience with their Health Information Management Baccalaureate Pilot Program, as well as further evidence of the needs and benefits of a community college baccalaureate in California.

As it was likely the final hearing on SB 850’s chief sponsor, Senator Marty Block, the hearing also offered an opportunity for constituencies supportive of this work to extend gratitude to this legislative champion for the community college baccalaureate.