“I’m so glad College of the Canyons is offering bachelor’s degrees. It’s about time!”
That refrain – and hundreds of variations like it – are uttered to me frequently. It happens just about everywhere throughout the Santa Clarita Valley, whether I’m at a fundraising event or standing in line at the supermarket.
I have to gently offer a clarification, of course. College of the Canyons confers quite a large number of associate degrees, but the bachelor’s degrees – and master’s degrees, for that matter – are offered at our University Center.
Yes, the University Center is located at College of the Canyons, but the degree programs are offered by institutions such as the University of La Verne, Brandman University, Cal State Northridge, Cal State Bakersfield and National University.
I mention this not to point out the common confusion, but to emphasize the collective enthusiasm about bachelor’s degrees being offered at College of the Canyons. It’s an idea that excites the local populace because it’s important to them.
As it should be.
We created the University Center because it removed significant barriers to higher education. It made earning an advanced degree far more convenient and accessible.
Local residents didn’t have many options before the University Center opened in 2002. Since then, 2,804 people have graduated with bachelor’s or master’s degrees.
That’s an impressive number of people who have been empowered to grow and to advance their careers. It bodes well, too, for an untold number of businesses that have benefited from an expanded pool of well-trained local talent. All of this helps fuel the local and regional economies, as well.
Imagine, if you will, if we could expand the concept even further. Imagine that College of the Canyons actually offers bachelor’s degrees! It’s not as far-fetched as some might believe.
Fifteen California community colleges have the option to offer bachelor’s degrees as part of a pilot program created in 2014 by Senate Bill 850, which sought to provide more educational options to help high school graduates get the training required to enter a competitive job market.
That job market is not only fiercely competitive, but it’s also facing the biggest drought of them all: a projected shortfall of 1.1 million educated workers who will be needed to keep California’s economy on a healthy track.
The pilot program will do little to fill that shortfall, but a full-fledged effort to allow community colleges to offer multiple bachelor’s degrees would provide serious momentum toward achieving California’s employment goals.
The pilot program is severely limited and hampered by restrictions, such as preventing duplication of programs at nearby CSU and UC universities. But new legislation could put accessible higher education back on track.
Senate Bill 769 by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, would expand the pilot program and allow community colleges to offer multiple bachelor’s degree programs in areas where the CSU system is unable to meet that need.
Community colleges are well equipped to offer specialized medical or technology programs, for example, that mirror the unique needs of their communities.
They can do it better and at less cost than private, for-profit colleges. Consider the debacle of ITT Technical Institute, which suddenly shut its doors and filed for bankruptcy last year, leaving thousands of students in the lurch.
California community colleges know their communities intimately as well. They know what’s needed, and they can deliver a high-quality and affordable education like no other.
Allowing community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees would also shatter the biggest barrier to higher education of them all: the cost.
Current estimates put the cost of a four-year degree at a California community college at $10,000. That’s not the cost per semester or per year, but the total cost for all four years. It would open a veritable floodgate of educated workers to meet California’s needs.
It’s clear that California’s higher education system is not meeting demand; much of this is due to artificial restrictions that prevent community colleges from doing all that they are capable of doing.
It makes sense to identify and implement solutions that are both innovative and realistic. Allowing community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees fits both criteria.
We will be doing all that we can to support the new legislation because it’s the right thing to do. I hope you will support us in this important endeavor.
I look forward to the day when people tell me how thrilled they are that College of the Canyons offers bachelor’s degrees – and I can respond with a simple smile, an affirmative nod, and a “You betcha!”
Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook is chancellor of the Santa Clarita Community College District.