Governor Newsom Signed AB 927 - an Historic Decision for California Higher Education

To:       Community College Baccalaureate Supporters and Friends:

Dear Colleagues:

Chancellor Judy Miner and I are elated and pleased to share with you the good news that this afternoon Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 927 into law.  This is truly an historic decision that will set a bold, new direction in California’s system of public higher education.  Community colleges will now be able to develop and offer bachelor’s degrees in workforce fields.

A little bit about the rationale for this.  California now joins the other 24 states nationally that empower their community colleges to offer the baccalaureate, recognizing that the associate degree in a number of workforce fields is becoming or has become obsolete as employers and professional associations increasingly require bachelor’s-level training while, at the same time, public universities do not offer these programs.  Since workforce education is one of the top community college missions, filling this gap is both practical and appropriate within the existing mission.  Moreover, most community college students are “place-bound,” and are unable to leave their local communities to pursue educational opportunities elsewhere in the state or nationally.

In California, the community college baccalaureate pilot program involving 15 colleges has been massively successful, demonstrating the following:

The degree programs are accessible since they can be pursued at the local community colleges.

Let me summarize exactly what AB 927 does:

There is much more to be shared in the future about this remarkable development in California’s higher education future, but I would like to close this announcement by expressing heartfelt appreciation to everyone who made this today’s outcome possible.  Our coalition has been extraordinary and all of you who participated are part of our ultimate success.  Thank you to:

In the months ahead, you will hear more from the CCC Chancellor’s Office regarding process and timelines.  You will also be hearing from our relatively new organization, the California Community College Baccalaureate Association (CCCBA), which will provide technical assistance, professional development, information, webinars, conferences, connections, and other support for colleges interested in developing baccalaureate programs. We will be providing support to the CCC Chancellor’s Office and we will be provide information about the lessons-learned by community college baccalaureate providers in other states via the national Community College Baccalaureate Association.  Information about the CCCBA officers and board members is attached.

Let me close by saying that this has been an emotional day for me personally.  Judy Miner and I are proud to have chaired this statewide advocacy effort, which has been at times a roller-coaster ride.  Along with most of you, we have all been on an important and difficult journey together fort the past 7 years.  However, our belief in what the community college baccalaureate can do for our students and local communities has been the impetus for our continuing effort.  And, guess what – We did it!

Dr. Constance M. Carroll
President & CEO

Baccalaureates at community colleges are making a difference

Students in Mira Costa College’s biomanufacturing baccalaureate program took a bioprocess monitoring and control course this spring to learn how control systems maintain variables like temperature and pH to create stable environments for living cells in biomanufacturing. (Photo: Mira Costa College)

By Madeline Patton | Community College Daily | July 22, 2021

This summer, Esther Nair is filled with a sense of accomplishment. She earned a baccalaureate from Mira Costa College’s biomanufacturing program in May and has what she considers “the best job” as a quality analyst with Native Microbials, Inc., where she began full-time work last November.

“All my dreams came true. We are no longer on medical. No food stamps. It’s definitely a change,” Nair said.

After five years of squeezing time with her children around college courses, part-time jobs and homework, Nair said in a recent interview that she’s happy to focus on her children, pay her family’s expenses without government assistance and deal with “better challenges.”

“I’m excited to go to work and then leave work behind and be present with my family. And it’s really thanks to Mira Costa and the program. I’m really so appreciative to the faculty, the staff, the legal personnel [who passed community college baccalaureate legislation]… It made all the difference in my life and my kids,” she said.

Nair was one 30 students in the third cohort of Mira Costa’s biomanufacturing program. Seventy-four students altogether have completed the upper-division of the bachelor of science program for a 95% overall success rate for the first three cohorts. Most of the students in the program are from populations historically underrepresented in STEM fields.

Three-quarters of program graduates are employed before they walk across the stage at commencement, said Michael Fino, Mira Costa dean of math and sciences.

“The outcomes are really incredible,” he noted.

Gaining momentum

Twenty-four states now have legislation that allows community colleges to offer baccalaureate degrees, according to Angela M. Kersenbrock, president of the Community College Baccalaureate Association, which promotes access to community college bachelor’s degrees as a way to close racial, ethnic and economic gaps. It is an affiliated council of the American Association of Community Colleges.

Recent bipartisan support for community college baccalaureate programs has added momentum to a two-decade effort that may be on the cusp of achieving critical mass, Kersenbrock said.

The most far-reaching legislation is California Assembly Bill 927. It would allow all 116 community colleges in California to add baccalaureates in disciplines with high, unmet employer needs. The legislation would also allow the 15 community colleges that have been pilot testing baccalaureates to continue their programs indefinitely.

The version of the legislation approved by the California Senate this month would cap statewide expansion to 30 baccalaureate programs per academic year, and it would limit the number of baccalaureate programs offered by a community college district to 25% of the total number of associate degree programs offered by the district.

Expanding relationships

Kersenbrock sees baccalaureates at community colleges as an expansion of their economic development missions, and anticipates that tension with the university sector will lessen as overall baccalaureate attainment rates go up. The biomanufacturing program at Mira Costa is an example of exemplary student and community outcomes.  

Aside from the high graduation and employment rate, Fino said that the biomanufacturing bachelor’s degree has improved the college’s connection with biomanufacturers and attracted students to the college’s associate degree programs.

“There’s no doubt that our engagement, and relationship and interest with industry changed with this bachelor’s degree … just the general interest in our program and knowledge, skills and abilities of the students coming out of it is at a whole different level that it was before,” he said. 

Barbara Juncosa, chair of the biotechnology department, said “employers are seeing the value of our students in terms of their industry-applicable knowledge compared to students who might just have a biology or chemistry degree, which is very heavy on theory but not so much on the practical nature of a biomanufactuing operation.”

The college now has formal mentoring programs with local biotech companies that are also starting to offer internships and scholarships for Mira Costa students.

Juncosa said the baccalaureate program has sparked interest in the college’s biotechnology associate degree.

“We’re getting a lot more students coming in the door curious because they’ve heard about this bachelor’s degree and they’re looking for some exposure,” she said. “I would say that it really kind of helped to grow our lower-division program as well, and increased students’ interest.”

Although program marketing plans were set aside while faculty and staff devoted their attention to delivering courses exclusively online in 2020 and then with reconfigured labs, Covid and biotechnology’s role vaccine development have raised interest in biomanufacturing careers.

Working in tandem

As a biotechnology instructor, Fino wrote Mira Costa’s biomanufacturing baccalaureate curriculum in response to companies’ requests for technicians with higher-level skills than could be taught in the associate degree program. As part of the process to gain state approval for the biomanufacturing degree, Fino met with faculty and administrators at the California State University, San Marcos because Mira Costa is in its service area. They agreed that Mira Costa’s biomanufacturing degree would be different than the biotechnology bachelor’s degree it offered.

The letter of support UC-San Marcos provided “was really important for us,” Fino said. And now, six years after that meeting, Mira Costa biomanufacturing graduates are beginning to enroll in UC-San Marcos’s biotechnology master’s degree program.

Fino’s 2021 doctoral dissertation, titled “STEM Equity: Access and Success in a Novel Community College Baccalaureate,” looked at the outcomes of the program’s first cohort of 22 students. Nineteen students were from underrepresented populations. One hundred percent of the cohort finished the program in three years.

For the qualitative aspect of the study for his Ph.D. from San Diego State University, Fino interviewed 10 of the graduates about their experiences in the program. The students told him the cohort format, consistent schedule of courses from 7:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., and the assistance of the program’s student success specialist helped them persist.

The cohort model with all the students moving through every course together “wasn’t all necessarily positive,” he said.  There were challenges with different work styles and personalities.

“They acknowledged that was important for them to work through [differences] … And they connected the importance of that to the workplace,” Fino said.

He added that he is pleased Mira Costa devoted the extra money it received from baccalaureate students’ tuition to biotech supplies and the salary of a student success specialist. The California legislature set the community college baccalaureate tuition rate at $130 per unit. Even at $84 more than the $46 per unit for associate degree programs the total cost of a baccalaureate from a California community college is $10,000.

At Mira Costa the success specialist for the biomanufacturing program is in contact with every student at least once a week.

“She’s kind of a living early alert system,” Fino said, explaining that the specialist directs students to the many support services on campus and serves as an intermediary to help them navigate the power dynamic with faculty.

“I think that in addition to the cohort model, [the success specialist] has been one of the keys to success,” he said.

Putting it all together

For Nair, it was the whole package — supportive cohort of classmates, attentive faculty and staff, predictable schedule, jobs on campus and low cost — plus the college’s proximity to her home that made Mira Costa’s biomanufacturing program a good fit for her.  

When she enrolled five years ago, she was dealing with enormous stress. At age 34, her marriage of 11 years had disintegrated, and she was searching for a career to support herself and her two children. She felt she had one shot to earn a degree.  

During her first meeting with an advisor at Mira Costa, Nair shared that she was interested in marine science but that at-sea assignments would conflict with her family responsibilities. The advisor suggested the biomanufacturing bachelor’s degree program. She explained it would allow Nair to follow her interest in science, was affordable and would lead to a career with nearby biotech companies that paid family-supporting wages. She enrolled immediately without even understanding what biotechnicians do.

“I’m going to make this happen to take care of my kids,” Nair said of her career decision.

Nair completed an associate degree at Mira Costa in 2018. With this credential, she obtained a one-year paid internship at the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine. The income was critical at that point when she was on the fence about whether to do the last two years of a baccalaureate at Mira Costa or another university. The researchers’ praise of the lab skills she learned at Mira Costa and the $16,000 per year tuition elsewhere led her back to Mira Costa.

“If it weren’t for this degree at Mira Costa, I really don’t think I would have gotten a bachelor’s degree,” she said.  

Link to article:

New California bill to offer bachelor's degrees for under $11k

Opinion: California is projected to face a worker shortage by 2030. Here’s how lawmakers can help.

Carroll is outgoing chancellor of the San Diego Community College District, co-founder of the California Community College Baccalaureate Association and chair of the advocacy effort for Assembly Bill 927. She lives in San Carlos.

As California reopens its economy, one of the state’s biggest challenges will be finding the talent needed to fill high-demand jobs. California is projected by 2030 to face a shortage of 1.1 million workers with a bachelor’s degree needed to sustain and grow the state’s economy.

Facing this talent crisis, one of the more important bills California lawmakers will consider this year is Assembly Bill 927, which would remove the current sunset date on California community college bachelor degree programs in workforce fields with high demand and unmet need while expanding eligibility for all of the state’s community colleges to participate. This program also addresses the fact that many employers and fields now require baccalaureate-level training rather than the previously required associate degree preparation.

In 2014, then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 850, authored by former state Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, into law. It allowed 15 colleges — including San Diego Mesa College and MiraCosta College in Oceanside — to offer a baccalaureate program in specific workforce fields under a pilot program initially set to expire in 2023. Subsequent legislation extended the program’s sunset date to July 2026, and a key provision included in both bills stipulates that a community college program not duplicate programs offered by either the California State University or University of California systems.

Assembly Bill 927, sponsored by Assemblymember Jose Medina, D-Riverside, would make the pilot programs permanent and would extend this opportunity to all of California’s community colleges. The bill comes with assurances that new baccalaureate programs would be established only where local workforce needs were demonstrated and only after a thorough review and approval process by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, in consultation with the public university systems.

As chancellor of one of California’s largest community college districts, I can attest to the critical need for Assembly Bill 927. The bill is essential for California’s future as it will allow all community colleges to prepare students for good-paying, in-demand jobs requiring baccalaureate-level preparation in a variety of fields for which California’s public universities have no programs. These degree programs are also affordable, costing only $10,560 for all four years.

Among program advocates is the Florida-based national Community College Baccalaureate Association, which has long advocated for affordable, community college baccalaureate programs and which views a bachelor’s degree as an increasingly important entry point for better-paying careers and improved social mobility.

The group’s president, Angela M. Kersenbrock, said it supports all strategies to help close the gap in bachelor degree attainment and that the community college baccalaureate is “one more strategy to help close this economic and equity gulf.”

At San Diego Mesa College, scores of students who otherwise may not have had the opportunity have earned a four-year degree in the growing field of health information management and found employment in a profession where salaries can range from more than $60,000 to $146,000 annually. Students are enjoying similar success at MiraCosta College in Oceanside, which offers a bachelor’s degree in biomanufacturing and is the only other community college in San Diego County with a baccalaureate program. Baccalaureate programs were established at both colleges only after an exhaustive study demonstrated a critical need, and both were established with the support of business and industry.

Such opportunities should not be restricted to just two community colleges in a county with more than 3.3 million residents, especially not when the California Legislative Analyst’s Office found that more than half of students surveyed would not have pursued a bachelor’s degree if their community college program had not been offered. Such programs are not only meeting workforce objectives, but also the goals of enrolled students, approximately 60 percent of whom come from communities of color and from disadvantaged backgrounds.The affordable tuition of little more than $10,000 is a fraction of what it would cost them at a private institution.

The community college baccalaureate programs have an impressive graduation rate of 75 percent, the LAO report found, which is a higher rate than is found in general community college programs and at most universities. Moreover, these students are immediately contributing to California’s economy through their new jobs or increased responsibilities, and 94 percent remain in the state to pursue their career. The LAO report notes that students who graduated in 2018 reported their annual salary to be $28,000 higher than their salary prior to enrolling in their bachelor’s degree programs.

By supporting Assembly Bill 927, we can help fill California’s burgeoning skills gap and support business, labor and industry. Most important, we can support our students who aspire toward the education and training they need, at a reasonable price, to thrive in an increasingly complex economy. The community college baccalaureate is their doorway to the middle class.

Two-Year Institutions, Four-Year Degrees

Community colleges in Arizona can now offer four-year programs, providing more affordable and streamlined pathways to bachelor's degrees.

Arizona has now become the 24th state in the country to allow community colleges to offer bachelor's degrees. Governor Doug Ducey signed legislation this week that permits the colleges to have baccalaureate programs and join the growing national movement of two-year institutions offering four-year degrees.

The move was applauded by community college leaders and other proponents who have long advocated for such programs. State lawmakers also supported the measure by a wide margin, with the Arizona Senate voting 24 to 6 to adopt it.

“Community college is about access,” said Steven R. Gonzales, interim chancellor of the Maricopa Community College District. “To suddenly say that everyone has an opportunity to pursue a four-year baccalaureate through an open-door institution should be something that should celebrated across our state, across our country.”

Advocates of community college baccalaureate programs have argued for years that low-income and nontraditional college students, such as older students, those who have children or those who are the first in their families to attend college, are more likely to get bachelor's degrees if they don’t need to switch to a more expensive four-year university to do so.

“They’re at the community college, they’re comfortable. They know where the library is, they know their student advisers, they know the financial aid people, they’re familiar with the faculty, the classes are smaller,” said Angela Kersenbrock, president of the Community College Baccalaureate Association. “Why force them to move to another institution?”

The legislation requires community colleges to prove that proposed baccalaureate programs respond to local labor market needs and don’t replicate programs already offered by state universities, whose governing boards have largely opposed allowing community colleges to offer bachelor's degrees. Under the legislation, public universities will have an opportunity to offer written commentary about any planned community college four-year degree programs.

“Arizona’s community colleges play a critical role in supporting students of all ages and equipping our workforce with skills and resources,” Ducey said in a statement about signing the legislation. “Arizona is a school choice state, and today’s action is school choice for higher education.”

Community college leaders hailed the legislation as an opportunity to give students more affordable, local options for a four-year degree geared toward high-demand jobs in the state.

Lisa Rhine, president of Yavapai College in central Arizona, praised the legislation as expanding access to bachelor’s degrees across the state.

“Allowing community colleges like Yavapai College to offer four-year degrees will save students money, draw more students to our school and build up our workforce,” Rhine said in a press release.

Community colleges across the state are already eagerly preparing to develop baccalaureate degree programs.

Maricopa Community College District, which encompasses 10 colleges in central Arizona, actively supported the legislation and is considering offering baccalaureate programs in areas such as police and fire science, information technology, respiratory therapy, and teacher education at a low cost to students.

Not everyone is on board with the new law or the wider national movement to allow more community colleges to offer bachelor's degree programs. Public university systems in particular have argued that it undermines existing partnerships between two-year and four-year institutions and diminishes the traditional role of public universities.

"There is little evidence to support the need for a substantial change in Arizona’s higher education structure," Larry Penley, chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents, said in a May 3 letter to the governor.

The Arizona Board of Regents -- representing the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University -- remains opposed to the state legislation because it ultimately does not include a provision "requiring collaboration" with the universities in determining the types of baccalaureate programs community colleges can offer, said Sarah Harper, a spokesperson for the board. Public universities have no veto power. Harper did not make a member of the Board of Regents available for comment.

The legislation requires the price of baccalaureate-level courses at community colleges to be no more than 150 percent higher than courses for two-year degree programs in order to keep the price down. For the first four years, community colleges in Pima and Maricopa Counties, which have populations of more than 750,000 people, can’t offer more than 5 percent of their degrees at a baccalaureate level. After that initial period, the threshold moves to 10 percent.

These "guardrails" reflect "negotiations that took place with universities as this bill made it through the legislative process," Gonzales said. Even if public universities aren't absolutely on board with the legislation, "at least we were at the table getting some language that seemed to meet both of our interests."

Maricopa community colleges cap tuition costs at $1,020 per semester for current two-year programs so, at most, the colleges could charge a little over $3,000 a semester for baccalaureate degree programs.

Even if Maricopa community colleges charged the maximum amount for upper-level classes, “we would be able to deliver a degree at a fraction of the cost, probably somewhere between 25 and 50 percent, of what it would cost to go to university,” said Gonzales. “With students leaving higher education with mounds of student debt, this would be an opportunity to have access to high-quality, affordable [education] and hopefully leave community college with little to no debt and a bachelor’s degree in hand.”

Gonzales said developing baccalaureate programs won’t cost community colleges much if they’re strategic about it. All the baccalaureate offerings by Maricopa community colleges would build on two-year programs that already exist and that are taught by current faculty and use existing equipment, he said.

“We’re as strapped as any other community college when it comes to funding, so we want to be able to do this with existing resources as much as possible,” he said.

While some states have allowed community college baccalaureate programs since the early 1990s, there’s been a “spurt” of interest in the institutions offering four-year degrees in the last few years, said Kersenbrock, of the Community College Baccalaureate Association. She noted that in 2018, six more states voted to allow community colleges to develop baccalaureate programs. She expects to see more states follow Arizona’s lead as the economic downturn caused by the pandemic continues and lawmakers look for ways to train more students to fill local labor market needs and embark on “family-sustaining” career paths with higher salaries.

Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, expressed enthusiasm for the legislation in an interview with The State Press. He emphasized the need for continued collaboration between universities and community colleges.

“We are in a rapidly evolving economy where all institutions of higher education are going to need to greatly enhance their production of highly skilled workers,” he said in a written statement. “All of Arizona’s higher education institutions will need to work together to enhance the production of world class college graduates. We are looking forward to partnering with Arizona community colleges to enhance Arizona’s competitiveness.”

Rita Cheng, president of Northern Arizona University, similarly responded to the legislation with a reminder that public universities and community colleges traditionally work together.

“NAU has provided statewide programs in partnership with community colleges for over 30 years to meet workforce and community needs,” she said in a written statement. “We will continue to be a statewide university committed to student access and as has been identified by several Arizona community colleges, we look forward to a strategic higher education plan to meet certificate, associate, bachelors and graduate level workforce needs comprehensively.”

Lee Lambert, chancellor of Pima Community College, while supportive of the bill, said he saw no immediate need to offer four-year degrees. The college has “very strong” relationships with the state’s public universities, and those institutions are responsive to the demands of the college’s local labor market, he said.

For example, Pima Community College partners with Northern Arizona University to offer a concurrent associate degree and baccalaureate degree in nursing, so Lambert doesn’t think it’s necessary to develop a separate nursing baccalaureate program.

“I like to always start with our partners and see if together with our partners we can meet the needs, and then only if that doesn’t result in meeting the need, then we would come back and decide what we can do to meet that need,” he said.

Gonzales said community college baccalaureate degrees are designed to “complement” the offerings of state universities, not compete with them. For example, hospitals increasingly require respiratory therapists have bachelor’s degrees, but no university in the state offers a four-year program, he said. And while universities offer teacher education, they aren’t graduating enough students to meet demand, so offering those degrees won’t encroach on public universities’ offerings.

In California, similar worries emerged about increased competition when the state started a pilot program in 2014 that allowed 15 community colleges to offer one baccalaureate degree program. Constance Carroll, chancellor of the San Diego Community College District, said those concerns were ultimately “not well founded.” She’s advocating for legislation that would make the pilot program permanent in the state.

San Diego Mesa College, which is part of the district, offers a health information management baccalaureate program. About 85 percent of the program’s alumni got jobs within three months of graduating, with an average salary increase of $25,000, she said.

“These degrees are not offered by the Cal State University system,” she said. “They’re not offered by the University of California system, and they are very, very tied to the job market itself. There’s absolutely no competition. There’s absolutely no impact on [public university] enrollment, nor would there be.”

Debra Bragg, who studies community college baccalaureate degrees as a fellow for New America, a left-wing think tank, noted that research shows community college baccalaureate programs serve different students than four-year institutions.

“The students who enroll in these programs are students who most likely would not have attended a four-year baccalaureate program,” Bragg said. “And many times when they talk about their decisions, they really didn’t consider moving away or attending a university, so I think a lot of the worries about competition have really not proven to be a major obstacle or a major problem in states where we do see baccalaureates conferred by community colleges.”

Data from community college baccalaureate programs in Florida and Washington State, for example, show that the average student pursuing a bachelor’s in community college is in their early 30s. They’re more often first-generation students, low-income students, student parents and students of color, and they tend to be already working full-time and seeking to advance toward higher roles in their desired career paths.

Bragg said the goal of community college baccalaureate degrees isn’t to prevent students from transferring but to serve the students who want to transfer but never make it through the process.

“It’s those students that we’re worried about,” Bragg said. “I don’t think it’s that students go to college and their big dream is to transfer. They go to college and their dream is a baccalaureate degree. Transfer is the hurdle that we create to get the baccalaureate, and unfortunately we do that to the students that have the least resources and are often the least prepared to make those transitions in their college-going experience.”

Stacy Klippenstein, president of Mohave Community College, said his institution didn’t take a formal stance on the legislation. If local employers or students point to a need for baccalaureate degrees from his college, the college has the capacity and he’ll consider it, but for now, he plans to continue focusing on associate degrees and certificates.

Nonetheless, the bill did make him believe the state recognized the value of community colleges and the broader role they could play in workforce development during the pandemic.

“They recognize that we could have the ability to offer some four-year degrees to help fill that demand, and we can do it well, as we have been doing in the two-year sector,” Klippenstein said. At the same time, “they recognize that community colleges will still do their best to partner with our three major universities in the state. It’s not like we’re trying to build a divide. We’re actually trying to better build a bridge.”

Community college bachelor's degrees are filling the gaps

A groundbreaking initiative allowing a limited number of California community colleges to offer baccalaureate programs is slashing the student cost of earning a bachelor’s degree, better preparing graduates for employment, and putting people to work in hard-to-fill positions.

Robots are used as part of the Bakersfield College Industrial Automation baccalaureate program. File photo provided by Bakersfield College.

Those are the conclusions of education and legislative leaders who are committed to expanding the community college baccalaureate program at a time when California is projected soon to see a shortage of up to 1.1 million bachelor’s-degree holders needed to sustain the state’s economy. Among program advocates is the national Community College Baccalaureate Association, which foresees a bachelor’s degree becoming an increasingly important entry requirement for higher-paying jobs and improved social mobility.

“The Community College Baccalaureate Association supports all strategies to help close the gap in bachelor’s degree attainment,” said the association’s President, Angela M. Kersenbrock. “There is no one strategy that fits all needs; the community college baccalaureate is one more strategy to help close this economic and equity gulf.”

The California pilot program put forth as Senate Bill 850, authored by then-Senator Marty Block, was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in 2014. San Diego Community College District Chancellor Constance Carroll chaired the statewide legislative efforts. Today, bachelor’s degrees are offered at 15 California community colleges, including San Diego Mesa College, in workforce fields where there is high demand and unmet need. These programs also do not duplicate programs offered by California’s public universities, the University of California and the California State University systems. A recent California Legislative Analyst’s Office report validated the academic quality and rigor of the state’s pilot programs, noting that all have been accredited and all are designed to teach concepts and skills that are immediately relevant.

The California community college baccalaureate also is motivating more students to enroll in a four-year program. At Mesa College, for example, 95% of students in the college’s Health Information Technology associate degree program are planning to pursue a bachelor’s degree through the college’s Health Information Management baccalaureate program so they can enter a profession with salaries ranging from nearly $83,000 to more than $144,000 annually.

Joe Panetta, president and CEO of Biocom, the Life Science Association of California, praised a biomanufacturing baccalaureate program at MiraCosta College for meeting industry demands. Nearly 90% of program graduates are now employed in the field, and several are seeking advanced degrees.

“The life science industry employs nearly 50,000 people and generates $34 billion in annual economic activity in San Diego County alone,” Panetta said. “Having a home-grown workforce is essential to the future growth of this high-wage sector, so we look forward to providing our support to the faculty and students in the program.”

A chest x-ray is examined during a class relating to Modesto College’s Respiratory Care baccalaureate program. File photo provided by Modesto College.


Affordability. Tuition for a bachelor’s degree from a community college costs just $10,560 for all four years combined, a fraction of what four-year colleges and universities charge, to say nothing of the high cost of programs at a for-profit university.

Meeting workforce needs. Antelope Valley College’s Airframe Manufacturing Technology program, Bakersfield College’s Industrial Automation program, Mesa College’s Health Information Management program, and Shasta College’s Health Information program were responsible for filling hard-to-staff industry positions, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. In addition, Solano College’s Biomanufacturing program, Santa Monica College’s Interaction Design program, MiraCosta College’s Biomanufacturing program, Bakersfield College’s Industrial Automation program, and Antelope Valley College’s Airframe Manufacturing Technology program are graduating better-prepared students compared to other baccalaureate programs.

Location. Many community college students are place-bound and these baccalaureate programs offer accessibility for students who can’t afford to move to attend a university.

Economics. The Legislative Analyst’s Office report shows that students who graduated in 2018 were earning an annual salary $28,000 higher than their salary prior to enrolling in their bachelor’s degree program.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office also found that more than half of students surveyed by the pilot community colleges would not have pursued a bachelor’s degree at all if their community college program had not been offered; graduation rates among those in the community college baccalaureate program are higher than graduation rates among those transferring from a California community college to the California State University campus; and 92% of students agreed that community colleges should continue to offer a baccalaureate program.

The Community College Baccalaureate Association reports that the typical community college baccalaureate student is 28 to 32 years old, looking for economic stability, and striving to be a role model for their children.

“Adult students cite many reasons for enrolling in a community college baccalaureate program. Chief among them is the fact that there were no realistic alternatives for them,” Kersenbrock said. “These students are, for the most part, adult, part-time students with multiple priorities. They are not the traditional college-age student who is 18 to 24 years old with the time and the resources to attend full-time.”

Kersenbrock points to Florida, a state where 27 of its 28 community colleges offer bachelor’s degrees,  as an example of community college baccalaureate success: The average age of a student is 32, the average salary after completing the baccalaureate program is $53,000, and the vast majority of graduates stay in their own communities. More than half the students are female, 38% are minority, and more than 50% are the first one in their family to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Approximately 60% of students in the California baccalaureate programs are minorities and more than two-thirds are women.

California is currently among 25 states where community colleges are authorized to offer a baccalaureate program, and there are continuing efforts to strengthen and expand this opportunity beyond the pilot. A coalition of higher education leaders, led by SDCCD's Chancellor Carroll and Foothill-De Anza CCD Chancellor Judy Miner, has established the California Community College Baccalaureate Association to provide educational assistance and to advocate for the program. The organization’s highest priority is securing legislative support to expand and extend the program, which will sunset in July 2026 if new legislation is not passed.

“California’s community college baccalaureate evolved after years of collaboration not only with business, industry, and labor, but also after discussions with other leaders in higher education,” said Chancellor Carroll, who also co-chairs the statewide legislative advocacy campaign and co-founded the California Community College Baccalaureate Association. “It is hard to argue with success, and the community college baccalaureate program has been a success since its inception.”

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Legislation introduced to expand 4 year degree opportunities at community colleges

Graduates of San Diego Mesa College’s bachelor’s degree program in Health Information Management celebrate at commencement ceremonies. The program is one of 15 in California that operate as part of a state pilot program that is set to expire in 2026.

Legislation to make permanent and expand a groundbreaking pilot program allowing 15 California community colleges — including San Diego Mesa College — to offer bachelor’s degrees in critical workforce fields has been introduced in the state Assembly.

Assembly Bill 927, sponsored by Chair of the Committee on Higher Education Jose Medina (D-Riverside), would eliminate the 2026 sunset date on existing baccalaureate pilot programs in workforce fields where there is high demand and unmet need and allow for the number of such programs to grow throughout the state. Nearly identical legislation, SB 874, was introduced last year by now termed-out state Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), but was set aside when the lawmakers were forced to focus solely on matters pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting budget crisis. Last year’s legislation earned widespread support in the legislature and was backed by the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges.

“This legislation is essential for California’s future, as it will allow all community colleges to prepare students for good-paying, in-demand jobs requiring baccalaureate-level education,” said San Diego Community College District Chancellor Constance M. Carroll.  She added, “These programs do not duplicate any programs offered by California’s public universities and they are high-quality, low-cost, and locally-accessible. We are grateful to Assemblyman Medina for his vision and leadership.”

Carroll chaired the statewide advocacy campaign on behalf of SB 874, as well as the original legislation SB 850 authored by former Senator Marty Block in 2014.  She will chair the new effort, with co-chair Judy Miner, Chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District. Carroll also co-founded the nonprofit California Community College Baccalaureate Association.

California’s community college baccalaureate program has been a success since Governor Jerry Brown in 2014 signed Senate Bill 850, enabling 15 colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in specific workforce fields. The pilot program initially was set to end in 2023, but later legislation, sponsored by Senator Hill, that was signed into law extended the program’s sunset date to July of 2026. A key provision is that community college programs do not duplicate programs offered by California’s public universities, the University of California and the California State University systems.

“I am pleased to continue the legislature’s efforts to expand opportunities to students at the California Community Colleges,” said Assemblymember Medina. “AB 927 will extend and make permanent California’s successful baccalaureate pilot programs. By allowing community colleges to offer baccalaureate degrees, we will fill the burgeoning skills gap and provide opportunities for workforce development to underserved communities.”

California is projected soon to see a shortage of up to 1.1 million bachelor’s degree holders needed to sustain the state’s economy. Many point to programs such as the community college baccalaureate as proven and cost-effective ways of helping the state meet workforce demand.

A Legislative Analyst Office study released in 2020 revealed strong support for the pilot program from both students and employers: more than half of students enrolled in a baccalaureate program say they would not have pursued a bachelor’s degree had their community college not offered one; graduation rates among those in the community college baccalaureate program were higher than graduation rates among those transferring from a California community college to the California State University campus; and more than nine in 10 students wanted the program to continue.

Approximately 60% of students in the baccalaureate program come from communities of color and students are paying less than $11,000 in tuition and fees for their four-year degrees, a fraction of what it would cost them at private institutions or public colleges and universities. On average, students who graduated in 2018 were earning a salary $28,000 higher than their salary prior to enrolling in their bachelor’s degree program.

Learn more about the Health Information Management baccalaureate program at Mesa College.