California approves bachelor's degrees from community colleges

Pilot program includes 15 schools

California's Community Colleges Board of Governors approved a pilot program on Tuesday to allow some of the state's public two-year schools to offer bachelor's degrees.

The degrees will cost around $10,000, which makes them among the cheapest in the nation. In the last few years, governors in Texas, Florida, and Wisconsin have attracted attention by challenging their public colleges to create $10,000 four-year degrees.

Study: More education equals more wage growth

It is an "historic day in the history of our community college system," says Brice Harris, the system's chancellor. Initially, 15 schools have been approved to offer bachelor's degrees in high-demand fields such as airframe manufacturing, emergency services, and automotive technology. California joins 21 other states where community colleges can offer four-year degrees.

Origins and next steps

The program is the result of legislation passed by the state legislature last year. An early supporter of the law, Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego), said after the board's vote "it is a game-changer, not just for higher education but for the face of our workforce and the face of California’s economy."

Under the framework of the law, the state Legislative Analyst’s Office will issue a report on the success of the pilot prior to 2018 and 2022. Block says if the program is successful, then it might be expanded to more community colleges in the future.

The 15 schools selected to launch bachelor's programs still need to receive approval from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges before students can begin applying.

For some, that can't come soon enough. "My New Year’s resolution was to get my bachelor's degree," says Heather Esparza, a respiratory therapist from San Francisco (Brooks, New York Times, 1/31/2013; Asimov, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/20; Warth, U-T San Diego, 1/20).

The takeaway: Fifteen California community colleges have been chosen to pilot $10,000 bachelor's degrees.

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