Capitol Alert

Jerry Brown approves community college bachelor’s degrees

In what could portend a monumental shift in public higher education in California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Sunday that will allow up to 15 community colleges to launch bachelor’s degrees programs in vocational fields.

While 21 other states offer community college baccalaureates, California’s colleges have traditionally been the domain of transfer students and career technical education, granting two-year associate degrees, as established more than 50 years ago in the Master Plan for Higher Education. Senate Bill 850 will allow colleges to experiment with four-year degrees. The pilot program is set to begin no later than the 2017-18 academic year and end in 2024.

In recent years, advocates have argued that growing industry demand for more educated workers in fields such as dental hygiene and automotive technology could be met by expanding existing programs at community colleges.

“This is landmark legislation that is a game-changer for California’s higher education system and our workforce preparedness,” state Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, who authored the bill, said in a statement. “SB 850 boosts the focus of our community colleges on job training and increasing the accessibility and affordability of our state’s higher education system.”

Brown also vetoed Assembly Bill 46 from Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, which would have required California State University to share performance data from online courses with its faculty academic senates.

In a veto message, Brown called the bill unnecessary, and cited student privacy and cost issues.

“I am aware of the deep concerns that the sponsor of the bill has expressed regarding online courses,” Brown wrote. “These courses, however, could play an important role in helping to reduce the bottleneck that too often prevents students from graduating on time.”

“This is one of the reasons I believe that we should not unduly limit the introduction of online courses in the Cal State system.”

Brown has been a strong supporter of online education, including a 2013 experiment at San Jose State University that was canceled after dismal early results, prompting Pan’s legislation.

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