Alison Yin for EdSource Today

Half of the community college districts in California have expressed interest in offering vocational bachelor’s degrees allowed under a new law, offering up an expansive wish list of degree programs that run the gamut from mortuary science to electron microscopy.

The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office said the “overwhelming interest” demonstrates campus’ desire to offer advanced degrees in potentially lucrative occupational fields that aren’t served by California State University and University of California campuses.

“The districts’ strong interest in building baccalaureate degree programs is heartening,” California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris said in a statement.  “They are pioneering a new mission for the California Community Colleges and opening up pathways for Californians who may not have had the chance to earn a four-year degree.”

Thirty-six of the state’s 72 districts submitted so-called “letters of intent” to apply to be among the first campuses in California to offer a baccalaureate degree, the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office said Wednesday.

The number is more than double the number of campuses that will be allowed to offer the advanced degrees under Senate Bill 850, which was authored by Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, and signed in September by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The law allows up to 15 districts to set up pilot programs offering baccalaureate programs in fields not offered at either UC or CSU, typically vocational programs such as respiratory therapy, advanced auto technology and dental hygiene, among others. Technological advances in those fields mean an associate degree is no longer sufficient to guarantee employment.

Districts from geographic regions throughout the state have expressed interest in opening programs in a wide variety of fields. Feather River Community College District in Plumas County is mulling a program in watershed restoration or equine and ranch management, while North Orange County Community College District would like to offer a bachelor’s degree program in mortuary science. Other proposed bachelor’s programs include aviation maintenance from the Gavilan Community College District, an electron microscopy degree from the San Joaquin Delta Community College District and computer-cyber security from the Sonoma County Junior Community College District. The full list is included here.

Community college officials have said fees for the bachelor’s degrees will run about $10,000, far lower than the price tags at CSU or UC.

The California Community Colleges Board of Governors will determine which campuses will be ultimately allowed to offer bachelor’s degrees. Districts have until Dec. 19 to submit an application and the board is expected to make a final decision Jan. 21, according to information from the chancellor’s office.

The bachelor’s degree programs could start as soon as fall 2015, officials said, although the law requires that the programs be operational no later than the 2017-18 academic year.

California will become the 22nd state to allow community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees under the new law.


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