State bill would let community colleges offer bachelor's degrees

Pasadena City College in Pasadena, Calif.
Pasadena City College in Pasadena, Calif.
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State legislators held a hearing in Sacramento today on California’s Master Plan for Higher Education. They were looking for new ideas on how to help more students get through college faster. Here’s one new idea: let community colleges offer bachelor’s degrees.
KPCC’s Julie Small reports.

The state’s master plan for higher education was designed to ensure that every California student who wants a college degree can get it. But with Sacramento slashing higher education funding in recent years, the University of California and the California State University have had to limit enrollment and offer fewer courses.

Democratic Assemblyman Marty Block says that’s hurt community college students in his San Diego district.

"What really brought this idea up is the fact that San Diego State University has said for the first time in more than a decade they will not admit all CSU-qualified freshmen." Block says that means, "somebody has to provide them with that educational access."

Why not community colleges?

Assemblyman Block, a former dean at San Diego State, plans to introduce a bill to let some community colleges award bachelor’s degrees in nursing, high tech and other high demand subjects.

Richard Dittbenner, with the San Diego Community College District, urged legislators to consider the change. Dittbenner said over the last three years, the UC and CSU have turned away thousands of his students. He says that’s true for all the community college districts.

Dittbenner told legislators, "What we’re finding is that more and more students in the San Diego Community College District are transferring to Phoenix University and National University."

He predicts students will continue to opt for private for-profit colleges as long as California’s public universities continue to enforce policies that slow the progress toward a degree.

"We found out the reason students are going to National and Phoenix is because convenience" he explained, "They’re going to graduate on time and they’re well received."

Community colleges in 10 states offer bachelor's degrees.

But some higher ed advocates worry that letting community colleges do it here could rob funding from the public universities.

Assemblyman Marty Block says his bill would prevent that. He proposes that students pay higher fees during the two extra years they’ll need to earn a bachelor’s degree at a community college. Block says the fees would be high enough to cover the cost of additional classes - but low enough so students could afford them.