The Pros and Cons of Awarding Bachelor's Degrees at California Community Colleges (The Pros)Beth Smith | President, Academic Senate of California Community Colleges
Postsecondary institutions are responding by streamlining programs, developing pathways for transfer and guiding students to degree programs through career searches and counseling. As California considers its response to the need for more citizens with degrees, the legislature is exploring expanding the mission of community colleges to include the awarding of baccalaureate degrees. Already we know students’ lives are enriched and job opportunities abound when they earn an associate degree, and the legislature has furthered this cause through SB 1440 (Padilla, 2010) and the development of associate degrees for transfer to California State University (CSU). But interest is emerging in having community colleges develop and offer bachelor’s degree programs in select topics in a few areas of the state. The expansion of the mission of community colleges represents a significant change to the state’s Master Plan for Higher Education of 1960 and challenges the roles that each segment of higher education contributes to the state. Let’s see what such a change might mean for community colleges by examining a few arguments on both sides of the issue.
On the ‘pro’ side of the argument, faculty who champion expansion list some great reasons why community colleges should be able to offer bachelor’s degrees:
1. Community Colleges Serve the Community
For many citizens, access to public higher ed means access to a community college. Public universities are either unable to offer the programs desired by business leaders in some majors, or geographical locations make access to universities extremely challenging. Allowing community colleges to expand offerings to include bachelor’s degrees would potentially increase the educational level of many communities in the state through easier access to degree programs offered close by. In addition, through better service to local communities, greater participation of underrepresented groups in higher education may be realized.
2. Less Cost Required to Access Some Programs
Community colleges may be able to offer some degree programs for less cost to students than some private, for-profit institutions. Students should have a choice in California between public educational opportunities and those afforded through private, for-profit institutions. For some students in some programs, there are limited public options currently available, meaning students must incur substantial debt to access these programs only offered by non-public institutions.
3. CSU and the University of California Don’t Offer All Programs
In many instances, CSU and UC don’t offer all programs desired by business and industry, and the universities often don’t have the necessary facilities or equipment to build new programs or respond to demand quickly. For example, community colleges already have auto technology and respiratory therapy programs at the associate degree level, and champions believe these programs can be ramped up to the bachelor’s degree level more easily at the community colleges than by recreating all of the necessary labs and classrooms at the universities.
In the next installment, Beth Smith explores the cons of the move to award bachelor’s degrees at California’s Community Colleges.
Author Perspective: Association