December 5, 2022
Three California community colleges are fighting to start new baccalaureate programs, which their leaders insist would fill critical local workforce needs and help students who couldn’t otherwise afford to pursue a four-year degree. But their plans have faced repeated roadblocks from the California State University system. Cal State faculty members argue these programs, and future programs like them, shouldn’t proceed without their go-ahead.
The waylaid degree offerings are part of a first group of programs proposed by community colleges under Assembly Bill 927. The legislation, signed into law last October, made permanent a set of 15 pilot baccalaureate programs at community colleges and allows new four-year programs to be created at these institutions.
Under the law, California community colleges can apply to offer up to 30 new baccalaureate programs annually if the programs don’t duplicate existing programs at universities in the state. Whether programs meet those criteria is hashed out in a review process with representatives of the California State University system and the University of California system, followed by approval from the California Community College system chancellor’s office.
During this application cycle, five out of the nine programs proposed initially faced objections from Cal State or UC campuses. While community college leaders were able to allay most concerns, and many of the objections were withdrawn, three programs continue to undergo scrutiny from Cal State faculty members: a cyberdefense and analysis program at San Diego City College, an ecosystem restoration and applied fire management program at Feather River College, and a biomanufacturing program at Moorpark College. The programs aim to admit between 25 and 35 students per year.
“For us, the emphasis is really on equity and equitable access to career pathways,” said Julius Sokenu, president of Moorpark College. “And we see this as an opportunity to not only to partner with the industry sector in building curriculum that responds to their needs, but it’s an opportunity to support families in our counties, an opportunity to develop pathways to wealth building and salaries that lift folks out of poverty.”
Beth Steffel, chair of the Cal State Academic Senate, said faculty members want to make sure these baccalaureate programs are “expanding” on the degree programs already available in the state rather than replicating them. She believes well-defined roles for the different systems ultimately mean a wider variety of options for students.