Mission Creep or Mission Critical? Baccalaureate Degrees at the California Community Colleges

ASCCC Vice President

The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) opposed the creation of baccalaureate degrees in the community colleges for nearly a decade, with opposition on record through resolutions starting in the spring of 2010. At that time, faculty leaders were concerned that the state was already in a position of budget cuts and that expanding the mission to include baccalaureate degrees would overtax the system and lead to monies being spent outside of the stated CCC mission of basic skills, transfer, and workforce. The ASCCC continued to oppose the creation of community college baccalaureate degrees in California with its resolutions around Senator Marty Block’s Senate Bill 850 in 2014, which called for the creation of a pilot around 15 baccalaureate degree programs to be offered at different colleges throughout the state. Block’s bill did not allow for duplication of programs currently offered at the California State University or University of California systems, and districts were restricted to a single program. Once the bill was signed into law in September 2014, the ASCCC went to work to ensure that the programs had support from the Academic Senate in academic and professional matters, including not only course development and program review but also areas such as accreditation and faculty roles within budgeting processes.

Block’s bill also called for two reports from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, one to be sent to the legislature by July 2018 focused on an interim evaluation of the programs and a second to be sent to legislature by July 2022. After the 2018 report, the 2022 report was moved to February 2020, a full two and a half years earlier than the previously required report. That second report, which was released in January 2020, found both positive and negative issues around the CCC baccalaureate programs. Many of the concerns expressed, including areas such as graduation rates and total enrollment, must be viewed through a careful lens. For example, some programs that enrolled their first sets of students in 2017 have only graduated one cohort, and so their graduation rates would logically be lower than what they predicted when initially creating the programs, especially since the initial completion rates were based on the assumption that the report would be generated in the summer of 2022 rather than the winter of 2020. The positives noted in the report, including the rigor of the programs and the rates of completion for almost half of the colleges, were in some ways overshadowed by the overall tone and emphasis on the negatives of the report.

Prior to the report being published, the delegates at the ASCCC Fall 2019 Plenary Session were presented with two resolutions around baccalaureate programs in the system. The first, Resolution 6.01 F19, asked the delegates to reverse their previously held position opposing community college baccalaureate degrees. Because this resolution was a reversal of a previous position taken by the ASCCC delegates, it required a 2/3 majority to pass, which it received. The resolution also asked for the term “pilot” to be taken out of the descriptions of these programs going forward; that section also passed, with a normal majority vote. The second resolution, 6.02 F19, asked that the legislature pass legislation to allow for the expansion of the current baccalaureate program, with a particular emphasis given to programs in allied health. The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated how desperately the state needs additional trained allied health personnel; additional baccalaureate programs across the board, including programs that might be duplicative of those offered by the CSU, are necessary to ensure that California can meet the demands of its communities and the populations. For students that are place-bound due to family restrictions or other issues and for whom there is no local public four-year university, choices often come down to a for-profit or a private institution, neither of which is economically feasible for many students. In some areas, CSU programs have multi-year waiting lists for acceptance, further disenfranchising students seeking to transfer from the community college system.

Several California state senators, led by Senator Jerry Hill, have crafted a bill that removes the pilot designation from the current baccalaureate degrees and allows for expansion of the baccalaureate degree option to other colleges and districts (SB 874, Hill, as of 17 March 2020). Unfortunately, the bill continues to call for non-duplication of programs within the CSU and UC systems, which would preclude colleges in the CCC system from offering nursing baccalaureates. Given the high demand, the population being served by the current baccalaureate programs including students who are place-bound, and the rigor that the Legislative Analyst’s Office clearly indicated exists in the current programs, the ASCCC will likely support SB 874 with a request to amend in order to allow for duplication of programs that currently exist at systems of public postsecondary education in California.

Currently, more than half of the community college systems in the United States offer baccalaureate degrees, with Arizona’s House of Representatives agreeing to vote on a bill allowing baccalaureate degrees at the community colleges in that state after a constitutional review of the bill, which is slated to begin in March 2020. Momentum is clearly on the side of expanding baccalaureate degrees in California community colleges; such degrees are no longer an issue of mission creep but rather an issue of a mission-critical set of programs that colleges will be able to offer at a lower cost and to a greater diversity of students than extant programs do. The ASCCC looks forward to continuing this conversation with system stakeholders including the Chancellor’s Office, with employers, and with the legislators in both houses.