Gov. Brown signs a bill extending bachelor’s degree pilot program at community colleges

On Sept. 20, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill to extend a pilot program that allows California’s community colleges to offer a four year bachelor’s degree in specified fields.

Three community colleges in the Bay Area will be participating in the pilot program: Foothill College, offering a degree in dental hygiene, Skyline College, offering a program in respiratory care, and Solano Community College, offering a degree in biomanufacturing.

In a statement from the office of California Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, who introduced the bill said that Senate Bill 1406 is “about the future workforce in our state and bringing greater opportunities for higher education within reach of more students, close to their homes and at much less cost,” Hill said.

SB 1406 extends the program through July 2026, allowing students to begin a bachelor’s degree program as late as the 2022-23 academic year.

This bill follows Senate Bill 850, which authorized the launch of the pilot program and set it to end in the summer of 2023. According to Hill’s office, a January 2017 study by the Public Policy Institute of California observed that the state’s higher education system is not advancing alongside California’s changing economy.

Nelson Alonzo, a respiratory care major, first heard about the pilot program through a close friend who is also a respiratory care major.

“I’m excited for this program, knowing that I can apply and that it is affordable,” Alonzo said. “This can be a chance to pursue my dream to be in the medical field.”

Alonzo applied for the program in the spring and will do so again in the upcoming semester.

Anshi Aucar, another respiratory care major, thinks that more people will be attracted to this four-year program due to its affordability.

“One of the reasons why people choose to go to community college is because it’s cheaper,” Aucar said. “Who doesn’t want that? You’re getting a bachelor’s for half the price than you normally would.”

According to San Diego Community News Group, California has one of the biggest community college systems in the nation. Currently, CCC’s charge residents $46 per credit, or approximately $1,100 a year when enrolled full-time. Students participating in the program pay approximately $10,560 in fees and tuition for their four-year degree.

Raymond Hernandez, dean of Science, Math, and Technology at Skyline College, said that he had a positive reaction to Gov. Brown signing SB 1406.

“SB 1406 was broader when it first started,” Hernandez said. “It was looking to actually expand the number of baccalaureate pilots and the diversity of those programs…We’re still only at 15 baccalaureate pilots and we’re looking at the projection of the number of bachelor’s degrees that are needed in the state of California and the nation.”

The process of being able to offer the pilot program at Skyline College first went through a request process, and then Skyline was ready to start the bachelor’s degree program in respiratory care.

Expressing the readiness of the program, Hernandez said, “We were ready, poised. The respiratory care program had always been a program that was poised to do that. The profession is moving toward a bachelor’s degree, minimum, and healthcare in general. I think most programs are adamant among a bachelor’s or higher.”

California is one of the 23 states allowing community colleges to offer baccalaureate degree programs.

“The San Mateo Community College District[sic] serves the top 100% of applicants. It is yet another place in which we can help students achieve their dreams…now we can go just that next step further in that pathway,” said Hernandez.