Los Rios, Sierra community college districts won’t pilot 4-year degrees

The Sacramento region’s two largest community college districts do not immediately plan to offer four-year college degrees under a limited state pilot program, officials said this week.

Under a new state law, 36 other community college districts in California – half of all districts in the state – have shown interest in establishing bachelor’s degree offerings by filing letters of intent with the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. The pilot effort aims to help meet California demand for more workers in technical disciplines and increase the number of residents with bachelor’s degrees to help the state remain economically competitive in the decades ahead.

The Los Rios and Sierra community college districts, which serve nearly 100,000 students in the region combined, are focusing instead on programs that transfer students to four-year universities, officials there said this week.

Sierra College is working with several area colleges, including California State University, Sacramento, and University of the Pacific, “about ways we can partner to increase the opportunities for our students as they try to transfer,” said President William Duncan.

The pilot is authorized by Senate Bill 850 by Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, and limits community colleges to degrees in fields of study not provided by the California State University or University of California systems. Fifteen districts are to be selected at a Jan. 21 Board of Governors meeting, and each district chosen can create only one bachelor’s degree program.

A handful of districts in Northern California have expressed interest. Yuba Community College District proposes to offer four-year degrees in applied academics focused on automotive, manufacturing or welding, according to California Community Colleges. For an applied imaging degree, the focus would be on radiologic technology.

Other Northern California community colleges showing interest include: Shasta-Tehama-Trinity Joint Community College District, which proposes a degree in health information management; Solano Community College District, in engineering technology; Sonoma County Junior Community College District, in computer-cyber security; and San Joaquin Delta Community College District, in electron microscopy.

Los Rios Community College District, which operates four community colleges in the Sacramento region, opted not to pursue the pilot program but could consider a four-year degree program in the future, spokesman Mitchel Benson said.

Los Rios colleges are focused on expanding participation in the state’s Associate Degree for Transfer program to ensure that more majors are available to students and that more students participate and then transfer to four-year programs at the state universities, he said in an email. Los Rios’ Sacramento City College offers 22 approved degree transfer programs, one of the highest numbers among community colleges statewide, he said.

The district’s American River College offers 21 transfer programs and has two pending approval from the state Chancellor’s Office. Cosumnes River College offers 16 transfer programs and has one pending. Folsom Lake College, the district’s smallest, offers 11, he said.

Sierra College will dedicate more time to evaluating the kinds of four-year bachelor’s programs it might offer in the future, Duncan said. Sierra College already has developed a joint bachelor’s of science degree in nursing with CSU, Sacramento, a three-year program in which students will be co-enrolled at both colleges. The timeline is expected to help reduce costs for a degree.

Statewide, the new community college bachelor’s degrees are expected to have an estimated cost of about $10,000. The pilot program sunsets after the 2022-23 school year.

Representatives from the Chancellor’s Office, business and workforce communities, CSU, UC and community colleges not seeking to offer four-year degrees will recommend pilot districts to the Board of Governors for its January decision. Some programs could begin operating as early as fall 2015.

Districts seeking to participate must submit a formal application to the state Chancellor’s Office by Dec. 19.

Call The Bee’s Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee.