Thursday, September 4, 2014

Educators, veterans, business leaders, students urge approval of community college four-year degree bill

SAN DIEGO – Business leaders, veterans, educators and students gathered today to urge Gov. Jerry Brown’s approval of legislation by Senator Marty Block (D-San Diego) allowing California’s community colleges to offer four-year degrees.

Block, who authored SB 850, described his measure as a jobs bill. “This is landmark legislation that is a game changer for California’s higher education system and our workforce preparedness,” Block said. “SB 850 boosts the focus of our community colleges on job training now when California faces a major skills gap in our workforce.”

Currently only the University of California and the California State University systems may offer public four-year degrees. Block noted that 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.

“Community colleges are the workforce engines for California's economy,” said San Diego Community Chancellor Constance Carroll, Ph.D. “It is imperative for them to upgrade their programs to prepare students for new job requirements especially in fields where public universities do not offer the degree programs that are necessary.”

For high school students, SB 850 presents additional opportunities and options. “San Diego Unified supports SB 850 and believes this pilot program merits serious consideration,” said Superintendent Cindy Marten. “On April 8, our Board of Education passed and adopted a resolution to support this important new direction in California higher education to expand college opportunities for students in select fields.”

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.

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.

“SB 850 is a long-overdue remedy to the shortage of trained workers and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce strongly urges Governor Jerry Brown’s support of SB 850, an important piece of legislation that would allow California community colleges to offer baccalaureate degrees,” said Jerry Sanders, President and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. “SB 850 gives community colleges an opportunity to partner with local workforce investment boards and local businesses to strategically address critical employer demands across our state which will significantly benefit community college completion rates and meet future workforce demands in California, helping to keep our state competitive.”

Veterans groups are also supporting SB 850. Larry Blumberg, Executive Director of the San Diego Military Advisory Council, said an estimated 15,000 young men and women transition from military service to civilian life in the San Diego region. “That’s why SDMAC is excited about the opportunity that SB 850 brings to San Diego’s veterans’ community,” Blumberg said.

Brown received SB 850 on Aug. 28 and has 30 days to approve or veto the bill. Block introduced SB 850 in January, and it is the third time he has introduced similar legislation.

“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.”

SB 850 supporters include AMVETS, American Legion, the California State Commanders Veterans Council, the California Association of County Veterans Service Officers and 24 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, the San Jose Silicon Valley and Oceanside Chambers of Commerce, the Silicon Valley Chamber Coalition and the California Workforce Association. Also supporting SB 850 are the California Community College Chancellor’s Office and the California State University system.

Block’s measure 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 Board of Trustees of the San Diego Community College District and as a professor and administrator at San Diego State University.

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