Dianne Van Hook | Remove Roadblocks to 4-Year Degrees

Dianne Van Hook
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Would you drive 12 hours roundtrip daily to attend college classes that lead to a bachelor’s degree? 

Of course not! But California State University, Sacramento, seems to think its students might. So, they’re throwing up roadblocks that are delaying approval of our proposed bachelor of arts in sustainable architecture program. 

Following the process outlined in state law, College of the Canyons applied to offer our first-ever bachelor’s degree program. (No, we’re not becoming a CSU. We’re only planning to offer one BA degree right now.)

The bachelor of arts in sustainable architecture addresses a workforce need in our growing community and supports California’s burgeoning green economy. The program will offer in-person classes and train students in energy efficiency building codes, water conservation, air quality standards and decarbonized building design so they can work as technicians in the architecture/engineering/construction industries to help build environmentally friendly buildings right here in the Santa Clarita Valley. 

The Legislature passed Assembly Bill 927 in 2021, giving community colleges the green light to offer bachelor’s degrees that address unmet workforce needs. The bill defines a detailed approval process for new programs, including a provision that allows the California State University to review proposed degrees for duplication concerns. 

The fine print includes a requirement that CSU provide specific feedback within 30 business days of stating that a community college bachelor’s program may be duplicative of an existing CSU program. Duplication implies that a similar community college bachelor’s degree would siphon away students from CSU programs. 

After submitting our proposal in January 2023 to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, we got word in May that Sacramento State objected to our proposal. That started the 30-business-day clock ticking, with the deadline to provide us their detailed concerns falling in mid-July.  

Summer came and went. So did the start of the fall semester. And then the holidays came and went. So did the start of the spring semester. Finally, in early February, we received Sacramento State’s feedback.  

Yes, you counted correctly. It took more than a year for someone at Sacramento State to review our application and provide details about their concerns. 

And what was the basis for their objections? Chief among them was that our bachelor’s degree in sustainable architecture might duplicate (and therefore draw students away from) three of their programs: construction management, interior architecture, and their planned bachelor of fine arts in architecture studies scheduled to launch in fall 2024. Approximately half of the students in their Department of Design “desire to become architects but lack a convenient Northern California degree option,” they wrote.  

There are two problems with that objection. First, from an academic curriculum perspective, there is no substantive duplication between our proposed program and the three they claim will be impacted. Our bachelor’s degree will equip students to guide building projects through the Sustainable Building System Certification process, not become construction managers, or licensed architects, as their programs aim to do. 

And second, from a common sense perspective, COC is not a convenient option for Northern California students. All of our classes will be offered in-person, on our campuses. Do Sacramento State administrators really think students will undertake a 12-hour roundtrip drive from Northern California multiple times a week to attend class at COC? 

Of course not. So, then what’s really going on here? It appears to be a bureaucratic turf war designed to stifle competition. I hope I’m wrong, but CSU has fought to prevent community colleges from creating bachelor’s degree programs at every step of the way, from when the idea was first introduced in the Legislature, to now when community colleges around the state are creating and launching bachelor’s degrees.  

What’s particularly frustrating is CSU wants to have their cake and eat it, too. While working to block the creation of community college baccalaureate programs, they have advocated to expand their ability to offer doctoral degrees, something that had been limited to the University of California campuses. 

And what arguments does CSU use to make their case? By offering doctoral degrees, they say they will expand access to education and offer students a more affordable alternative.  

That’s exactly what community college bachelor’s degree programs are designed to do: give students affordable options to gain the skills and credentials that will put them in the fast lane to high-paying jobs in fast-growing industries.  

Community college bachelor’s degree programs are cheaper than those offered by CSU. We need to open more doors of opportunity for our students and open them wider. Instead, by throwing up roadblocks to new community college bachelor’s degree programs, CSU is putting barriers in the way of our students. 

So where does the road lead from here? Our goal is to begin offering this program by fall 2024. In fact, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges has already given its stamp of approval.  

We’re scheduled to meet with representatives from our state Chancellor’s Office and Sacramento State in the next week to hear their concerns firsthand. We’re open to making sensible adjustments to our program’s content. And, if necessary, we’ll consider a different name to emphasize our program’s applied vocational focus to alleviate concerns about content duplication. 

That meeting with Sacramento State should be the last stoplight before we can move forward. After the meeting, the president of the California Community Colleges Board of Governors can single-handedly sign off on our program. 

Assembly Bill 927 allows for CSU review of our proposal but does require their approval. The law gives the board of governors full authority to approve community college bachelor’s degree proposals, regardless of whether CSU agrees.  

It’s time to remove the roadblocks and get this program up to speed. With a green light from our state Chancellor’s Office, we will open an onramp to opportunity for our students and put them in the fast lane to rewarding careers with local companies. 

Dianne Van Hook serves as chancellor of College of the Canyons. 

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