Breland: Legislation would expand bachelor’s degree opportunities at community colleges
Evergreen Valley College. Photo courtesy of San-Jose Evergreen Community College District.

A bill introduced in February and currently making its way through the California Legislature would make permanent a pilot program allowing community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees. The bill would expand the program beyond the 15 schools included in the pilot to all community colleges in the state.

Bipartisan Assembly Bill 927, introduced by Assemblymembers Jose Medina and Steven Choi, is vital legislation at a time when our state economy has not yet fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence, it is imperative that we remove any barriers to higher education and workforce training in order to ensure that workers whose employment was interrupted by the pandemic and others who want to be trained for high-paying, living wage jobs are able to access the courses and educational programs needed.

At a time when the Public Policy Institute of California projects a shortfall of about 1.1 million bachelor’s degree earners in the workforce by 2030, in order to meet the diverse workforce needs of employers throughout the state, enabling all community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in high-demand fields not only makes good economic sense, but also will assist with an equitable recovery, especially for those individuals who don’t have the funding to pay for the increases in cost of a four-year degree.

In order for the goals of the legislation to be met, the bachelor’s degree programs must be carefully chosen to ensure that they both provide a pathway to a high-wage, high-demand career, and don’t conflict with programs already offered at universities in the same region. Community colleges do not want to compete with universities, but they want to be able to fill in gaps where a California State University or University of California program doesn’t exist in order to meet the workforce needs of regional employers.

Because California’s community colleges serve a student population that is more diverse and has a higher percentage of low-income students than their higher education counterparts in the CSU and UC systems, the programs will be more affordable and accessible to large swaths of the population that have been historically underserved when it comes to degree attainment.

A Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) report released in 2020 that evaluated the pilot program found several benefits for students, including “relatively low cost of attending the community college bachelor’s degree programs” and that 51% of students enrolled in the programs indicated that “they would not have pursued a bachelor’s degree if their community college program had not been offered.” Overall graduation rates were also higher for students who obtained a bachelor’s degree from the community college they were already enrolled in compared to those who transferred to the CSU system.

The LAO also found “no notable issues with the academic quality or rigor of the pilot programs. The programs have been designed to teach concepts and skills that would be immediately relevant in related industries.” Additionally, all programs offered as part of the pilot were accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

According to national data from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University, about 80% of entering community college students indicate they want to earn a bachelor’s degree, but only about 31% end up completing the degree. Assembly Bill 927 will help make that goal a reality for more Californians.

At San Jose-Evergreen Community College District, our Board of Trustees has an External Affairs Committee that is actively involved in legislative advocacy. The committee tracks bills in three categories: monitor, support and priority support. Assembly Bill 927 is one of 12 bills that the board has approved for priority support during this legislative session.

I hope that you will join us in supporting the effort to make bachelor’s degrees more affordable and accessible to Californians and contact your representatives in the State Legislature to let them know you support it as well.

San José Spotlight columnist Dr. Byron D. Clift Breland is chancellor of San Jose-Evergreen Community College district, which operates San Jose City College, Evergreen Valley College, the Milpitas College Extension and the Community College Center for Economic Mobility. His columns appear every first Wednesday of the month. He can be reached at chancellors[email protected]

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