Evergreen Valley College. Photo courtesy of San-Jose Evergreen Community College District.
Evergreen Valley College. Photo courtesy of San-Jose Evergreen Community College District.

    Our state is facing a shortage of more than 1 million workers with bachelor’s degrees by 2030, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. Failure to meet this need for skilled workers could have dire consequences for the state’s economy, so it’s imperative that all of California’s higher education sectors work together to ensure the demand for a highly skilled and highly educated workforce is met.

    One way to reach this goal is by expanding the number of bachelor’s degrees offered at community colleges. With 116 community colleges located throughout the state, California Community Colleges are uniquely situated to serve students who may not be able to relocate or otherwise enroll at one of CSU’s 23 campuses.

    The state Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom addressed this opportunity through Assembly Bill 927, which authorized the expansion of an earlier pilot program in order to allow more community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees.

    Following the passage of AB 927, the Board of Governors began approving community college bachelor’s degree programs last year. More recently, three additional programs received approval earlier this year and even more are in the pipeline for future consideration. While community college bachelor’s degree programs have been growing slowly since the passage of AB 927, the law authorizes approval of up to 30 programs per year. The potential for future growth and expanded impact is significant.

    It’s important to note that community college bachelor’s degrees do not duplicate degrees offered at nearby CSU or UC campuses. They are not designed to compete with CSU and UC offerings, but rather to fill the need when a CSU or UC option is not available. Despite this, CSU officials and the CSU Academic Senate have expressed concerns that the community college programs could result in declines to CSU enrollment and “a reduction in revenue” from student fees.

    While it’s unclear whether either of those feared outcomes would become reality even with the expansion of community college bachelor’s degree programs, policymakers should focus on what is best for the entire state, not the concerns of just one sector of public higher education.

    Community college bachelor’s degrees provide many benefits to individual students, as well as the entire state. On the individual level, they are more affordable and help students graduate with little-to-no debt while reducing the need to permanently or temporarily relocate. We also know from research that recipients of community college bachelor’s degrees offered during the state’s initial pilot program are employed in their field of study 98% of the time, and earn twice as much as they did before obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

    These programs help keep college graduates in California, with 95% of graduates remaining in the state after receiving their degree. They also help maintain California’s competitiveness with other states among a growing trend of community college bachelor’s degree offerings and reduce equity gaps in bachelor’s degree attainment, according to a new report from The Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

    Strengthening community college bachelor’s degree programs will also help California reach its statewide educational attainment goals, which are outlined in the Newsom administration’s Roadmap for the Future. This ambitious goal calls for 70% of Californians to earn a degree or certificate by 2030 and may only be possible through the expansion of bachelor’s degree programs at community colleges.

    With the potential for such benefit on both a societal and individual level, it does not make sense to prevent community colleges from offering bachelor’s degrees that both fit a regional workforce need and are not currently being offered by a neighboring CSU or UC campus.

    It’s incumbent upon leaders from all sectors of higher education to work together to ensure more Californians have the opportunity to pursue a bachelor’s degree at their local community college if a CSU or UC option is not readily available.

    San José Spotlight columnist Raúl Rodríguez is Interim 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 [email protected]

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