Thursday, May 29, 2014

Senate approves Block measure allowing community colleges to offer four year degrees

Senate approves SB 850 on bipartisan 34-0 vote

California’s state senate today by a 34-0 vote approved a bill aimed at closing California’s job skills gap by allowing community colleges to offer four-year degrees where a local workforce need can be documented.

Senator Marty Block (SD-39), who authored SB 850, described his measure as a jobs bill. “California has a workforce skills gap,” Block said. “By 2025 our state will need one million more adults with four-year degrees. We need to use all of California’s resources – including our community colleges – to close that gap.” He added that more than 20 states since 1970 already allow community colleges to offer baccalaureate degrees.

Block’s proposal is a pilot program that would allow 15 campuses from 15 different districts to offer one baccalaureate degree each starting Jan.1, 2015 and ending in July 1, 2023. Programs would begin no later than the 2017-18 academic year.

Baccalaureate degrees offered at the chosen campuses could not be duplicative of degrees offered by the University of California (UC) or California State University (CSU) campuses. “It will be value added, not duplicative,” Block said. The state’s community college Board of Governors and Chancellor in consultation with the UC and CSU systems would select the participating districts and campuses.

Participating districts would also be required to submit a report to the Chancellor that examines the program’s success including:
    •    Percentage of students completing the baccalaureate degree,
    •    Fiscal self-sustainability of the pilot program,
    •    Difficulty in finding and paying instructors for the program,
    •    Decline in enrollments at the public campuses in the regions served by the district as a result of the pilot program, and
    •    Number of students who received jobs in the field of study of their baccalaureate degree.

Block introduced SB 850 in January, and it is the third time he has introduced similar legislation.

Previous attempts included:
    •    AB 661 in 2011 which would have allowed Grossmont-Cuyamaca and the San Mateo Community College Districts to offer one baccalaureate pilot degree per campus. It was held on the inactive file on the Assembly Floor.

    •    AB 2400 in 2010 which would have authorized the San Diego, Grossmont-Cuyamaca and San Mateo districts to establish baccalaureate degree pilot programs. It was held in the Assembly Higher Education Committee.

“We’re in a different time now,” Block said to explain why he believes his third attempt will succeed. “California is in a better position now to invest in closing our skills gap. We are in a fast-paced race that we can’t afford to lose. Community colleges can help us meet the challenge. It’s wishful thinking to believe we can meet the challenge of producing another 60,000 bachelor degrees a year without using community colleges, and the longer we delay in using them, the further behind we will fall.”

This bill does not change the mission of community colleges to provide workforce training. It is merely responsive to a change in industry standards that now requires bachelor’s degrees as a preparation for entry into the workforce in many fields that once required only two-year degrees.

SB 850 is supported by veterans and business organizations as well as numerous community college districts. Supporters include AMVETS, American Legion, the California State Commanders Veterans Council, the California Association of County Veterans Service Officers and at least 13 community college districts including those in San Diego, Los Angeles, Napa, and Imperial Counties. Business supporters include CalChamber, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the San Jose Silicon Valley and Oceanside Chambers of Commerce.

Block’s measure has received bipartisan support in the Senate and no “NO” votes in any committees.

Block is chair of the Senate Budget Subcommittee #1 which deals with education financing and is a member of the Senate Education Committee. Prior to Block’s election to the Legislature, he served as president of the San Diego Community College District and as a professor and administrator at San Diego State University.

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