Report: Students, employers like bachelor's degree programs
An initial review of California’s groundbreaking community college baccalaureate pilot program recognizes its benefits for students and employers but suggests that additional information is needed to comprehensively evaluate the program’s effectiveness.
Established in 2015 by Senate Bill 850, the pilot program authorized 15 community colleges to offer one bachelor’s degree each in a career field with unmet workforce needs. Allowing community colleges to award baccalaureate degrees in selected career-technical fields is seen as an affordable and cost-effective way to close local skill gaps and provide career education opportunities for local students that aren’t available at California’s public universities.
Based on interviews with participating students, the state Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) found in its initial review that the baccalaureate pilot program appears to be expanding educational access for place-bound students, one of its primary goals. The study focused on evaluating how the 15 pilot programs were selected, which students are participating, and how programs are being financed.
“I appreciate the LAO’s recognition that the community college baccalaureate program is of great value to students and employers,” said Judy Miner, chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District and co-chair of California’s statewide advocacy efforts for the baccalaureate initiative. “Community college leaders appreciate the urgent need for expanding baccalaureate opportunities in light of the PPIC’s projections that California’s needs substantially more workers with bachelor’s degrees to meet economic demand.”
If current trends continue, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) projects a major skills gap by 2030 that will leave California with 1.1 million fewer workers with baccalaureate degrees than the state will need.
Foothill College in Los Altos Hills is one of the 15 colleges participating in the baccalaureate pilot, offering a bachelor’s degree program in dental hygiene. It admitted 24 students to its inaugural baccalaureate class in fall 2017; students from that cohort will graduate in June 2018. Foothill also is moving forward with a completion program to allow practicing dental hygienists who have an associate degree in the field to complete a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene beginning in spring 2018. Approximately 250 dental hygienists have signed onto a waiting list for the completion program.
The LAO’s report found that local employers and students are positive about community college baccalaureate programs because they are convenient for students, provide training that is tailored to local employer needs, result in internship opportunities and early job offers for students, and promote job retention because they enable employers to hire local residents.
If legislators allow it, Miner said, Foothill and De Anza colleges would consider offering additional baccalaureate degree programs in a small number of career fields for which students currently must leave the area to receive training, typically at expensive private or for-profit institutions.
Some 23 other states currently allow community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees to meet workforce needs.
California’s baccalaureate pilot program is slated to end in 2023 and a final evaluation is due in 2022. The LAO has concluded that under the enabling legislation relatively little student data will be available for a final evaluation because programs must stop admitting students several years before the sunset date so that students can complete the pilot programs while they are still authorized.
A bill introduced last year by state Sen. Jerry Hill – SB 769– would have extended and expanded the pilot program, allowing for the collection of more data for program evaluation. Miner expressed gratitude to Sen. Hill for his efforts to meet the educational and training needs of both students and employers.
Sen. Hill said this week that he would continue working with community college leaders on legislation to strengthen the community college baccalaureate pilot program.
“As lawmakers we have an obligation to help low-income and minority students get an affordable degree from a local institution that will lead to a good paying job in their community," Hill said in a statement.
A copy of LAO report is available here: http://www.lao.ca.gov/Publications/Report/3722
Posted Dec. 20, 2017