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Launching a Bachelor’s Program: The Development Process

The EvoLLLution | Launching a Bachelor’s Program: The Development Process
California community colleges have the opportunity to offer bachelor degrees that are in high demand from employers and not being offered by other public universities in the state, but the process of launching the degree is complex and challenging.

In California alone there are nearly 500 degree-granting higher education institutions, 112 of which are two-year, community colleges. Standing out in this immensely competitive marketplace can be challenging, especially for these two-year colleges that have been traditionally limited in the credentials they could offer. But no longer. A recently-announced pilot project is giving 15 California community colleges the opportunity to offer bachelor degree programs in high-demand, career-focused fields. In this interview, the second of two parts, Erlinda Martinez reflects on how her college is making sure their bachelor degree program stands on its own.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): What are some of the features you must have in place for the bachelor’s program to make sure it stands out from other programs offered by four-year universities?

Erlinda Martinez (EM): In California, community college bachelor’s degree programs were launched following passage of SB850, legislation sponsored by Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego). SB850 allows up to 15 districts to establish a pilot baccalaureate degree program at one of their colleges in a field of study not offered by the California State University or University of California.

Santa Ana College (SAC) was selected to offer a baccalaureate degree program in occupational studies. Since 1997, SAC has had a well-respected Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) associate degree program that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. To become an occupational therapist, a master’s degree is currently required. SAC’s bachelor’s degree program in occupational studies will serve as a bridge to master’s degree programs offered at four-year institutions.

Since no bachelor’s degree program in occupational studies is offered by public four-year institutions, there is no competition from the CSU or UC systems. Bachelor’s degree programs in OTA are available at some area proprietary colleges; however, the SAC pilot program will be much more economically accessible.

Students in the SAC pilot program will need to complete 75 units of lower-division coursework in the OTA program at a cost of $46 a unit (assuming that community college enrollment fees do not increase). The additional upper division units will cost another $84, for a total of $130 per unit of the last two years of the program. In total, the cost of the four-year program, excluding books or other costs, would be less than $10,000.

SB850 was enacted to help California meet the need for workers in high-demand technical disciplines, to increase college participation rates, and to improve workforce training opportunities for local residents who are unable to relocate because of family or work commitments. We have complete confidence that our occupational studies bachelor’s degree program will do just that and stand out from any other available programs because of its lower cost and the reputation of SAC’s OTA program.

Evo: What are some of the most significant challenges leaders of other two-year institutions can expect should they wish to offer bachelor’s degree programs of their own?

EM: When launching a bachelor’s degree program, there are many details that must be addressed. The three primary elements are personnel, curriculum and facilities. Will your institution’s existing faculty and facilities meet the needs of the additional upper-division classes?

In our college’s case, we already have faculty in place, but we may need to hire additional part-time faculty. We will assess the instructional needs as our upper-division curriculum is developed. Students in the bachelor’s degree program will also require additional support services, including tutoring for upper-division courses and program-specific counseling.

Although we have an excellent occupational therapy lab facility, we will need additional classrooms for upper-division courses. If your campus is tapped for space, this could present a challenge.

Rolling out a bachelor’s degree program requires a solid timeline and one that you must commit to. This year, we have reassigned faculty to work on curriculum development. In fall 2016, we will submit the completed curriculum for approval through the college’s Curriculum Council, Academic Senate, Board of Trustees, and California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. We will launch the first upper-division classes in fall 2017. We don’t have a lot of wiggle room as our launch date is part of the legislative mandate.

What we have learned as we have moved through this process is that there are a myriad of details to manage. For example, you must work through the minutiae of federal rules and regulations pertaining to financial aid, veterans’ benefits, and Title V. We understand the policies for community college students, but we now need to master the conventions for students in bachelor’s degree programs. In short, there are a lot of hoops to jump through.

We are working closely with the OTA advisory committee to ensure that we are thinking of all the possible what-ifs. In addition, we are in and will remain in close contact with ACOTE (Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education), the program’s accrediting association, to ensure that our bachelor’s degree program meets professional standards.

Needless to say, establishing a new bachelor’s degree program has some fiscal implications. In our case, no additional budget was provided by the State of California to fund this program. In essence, it is an extension of what we already do. It is our hope that the increased apportionment through additional FTES (full-time equivalent students) funding may help to offset the costs.

As you can see, the process of developing a bachelor’s degree program is full of questions and lots of back and forth with various groups and individuals. One constituency that must be kept fully apprised of the process every step of the way is your Faculty Senate and shared governance committees. Involving faculty is key to your success.

It’s essential to lead with a very strong academic discipline and establish a plan for developing your bachelor’s degree program, but equally important that you recognize that this plan cannot be set in stone. Details can and will pop up along the way that have escaped the most accomplished leader. Know that this will happen and remain positive and committed to the goal of launching a bachelor’s degree program for your campus.

While community colleges will never take over the function of four-year institutions, they can certainly fill a much-needed niche of preparing workers for highly technical and in-demand jobs. It’s a win-win for our students whose futures will be brighter and for the economy that will prosper.