Community colleges have long been the first step for many students into a world of higher education as they complete the first two years of higher education before moving onto the four-year universities, but what if a student never had to leave their community college to earn a higher degree?
California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris has asked that question by forming an exploratory committee to discover the viability of such an endeavor, according to a Los Angeles Times article.
This 16-person exploratory committee has been looking into the prospect of offering those four-year degrees at community colleges with their results reported to Harris and the Board of Governors in January, according to the same article. The panel is made up of administrators, faculty, a student, a college trustee and representatives from the University of California and California State University systems.
“This is a matter that is being discussed across [and] throughout the state in relationship to how it would impact the primary mission of the California Community College,” said Cosumnes River College President Deborah Travis via e-mail. “More analysis and discussion will need to be completed at the state and local level to determine if that is the best option for community colleges.”
California would not be the first to offer such a program. There are 21 states that already offer similar programs, with Michigan being the most recent, according to the LA Times article.
Spearheaded by Gov. Pat Brown in 1960, California’s “A Master Plan for Higher Education in California” defined the roles of the three tiers of public education – the community colleges, California State University system and the University of California system. Through the plan each system was to serve different purposes to eliminate redundancy, with community colleges being focused on open-admission to the community and on transfer to the other institutions.
In recent years the Master Plan has been less of a focus as budget-strapped colleges have tried to find ways to keep funding the schools, with two-year schools having to turn away many potential students.
With the budget and an excess of students still a problem, the ability to offer these degrees comes into question.
“The mission of community colleges right now is transfer, basic skills and career education,” Travis said. “That is where we are putting our resources. A great example of that is our new Elk Grove Center where the majority of classes offered meet general education requirements.”
While CRC may already offer classes in their new expansion, the question remains about what courses would be offered if four-year degrees were available.
“We’re curious to see what kind of bachelor’s degrees they’re proposing,” said Academic Senate President for California Community Colleges Beth Smith. “Are they in limited areas, not just geographic areas but in certain discipline areas? So there are a lot of questions yet to be answered about how this will help serve students in the community colleges, that are in certain geographic areas.”
Smith, also a professor at Grossmont College, said that community colleges are currently funded to offer two-year degrees and certificates and that the Legislature would need to take action for there to even be funding for community colleges to attempt such an endeavor.
A report from the Public Policy Institute of California is one piece of research in the reports filed by the committee. According to the report, titled “California 2025: Planning for a Better Future,” the demand for college educated workers will exceed the supply.
According to the same report, California public institutions award slightly more than 110,000 Bachelor’s Degrees each year with private institutions awarding 40,000. To meet projected demand by 2025, the report showed that the state would need to immediately increase the number of bachelor’s degrees by almost 60,000 per year, which is about 40 percent above the current levels.
Opposition states that increasing the number of degrees offered would require updating facilities as well as hiring more faculty to teach many of the upper-division courses that are required for four-year degrees, according to the LA Times.
The students, who are the main beneficiaries of the proposal, should it be considered for passage by the Legislature and Gov. Brown, have mixed reactions.
“I feel like that would be a nice idea for some people but not for me,” said Matt Lindemann, 20, an undeclared major. “I feel as if staying at CRC for that long would hold me back.”
Megan Hires, 20, a business administration major had a similar statement.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Hires said. “I think people stay at junior colleges too long as it is. I think it’s important for people to go to a four year, it’s good life experience.”
Not everyone is as against the idea as Hires and Lindemann. Alex Davis, 19, an undeclared major found a positive in the proposal.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Davis said. “It would be cheap and it would give people the opportunity to stay local if they have children.”
While funding and the amount of time spent at community colleges was a concern for some, it was the effect on the degrees themselves that came to mind for others.
“I think from the standpoint of a kid who doesn’t have a ton of money, that’d be great,” said 18-year-old undeclared major Drew Absher. “But I think it would really diminish the integrity of a college degree from a true four year.”
~Staff Writer Camille Caulk contributed to this story~