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.