Four-year degrees pushed at California community colleges


4-YEAR REPLACING 2-YEAR DEGREES?: A bill was signed permitting California community colleges to award bachelor’s degrees in vocational fields which typically only offer associate’s degrees.

By Veronica Petersen |

Gov. Jerry Brown last month signed SB 850 permitting California community colleges to award bachelor’s degrees in vocational fields such as dental hygiene, industrial technology and data management for health care — fields in which community colleges typically only offer associate degrees.

California Community Colleges say the new four-year degree programs are intended to accommodate students entering a changing job market where bachelor’s degrees are becoming a basic requirement for hire. In the past, an associate degree was sufficient for most vocational fields.

Vocational training traditionally has been viewed as an alternative to an expensive four-year college education. Community colleges, in turn, traditionally were places to earn credits before transferring to a four-year school, earning an associate degree, or learning a trade — a place to make oneself marketable, quickly.

When announcing the program, California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris said:

Employers in California seek candidates with advanced credentials and many struggle to fill positions in some of the fields that will be covered under the new program. This law will help us to meet California’s workforce needs, does not duplicate CSU or UC degree programs, and gives more Californians access to affordable higher education that can enable them to obtain well-paying jobs.

While concerns of overlapping programs and workforce demands are addressed, the four-year degree programs seem to overlook two of the key benefits of community college — affordability and accessibility. Now, even vocational educations are becoming less accessible — only to those who can afford to spend four years in vocational training.

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