New State Law Allows Community Colleges To Offer Four-Year Degrees

A new state law due to take effect Jan. 1, 2015, creates a pilot program under which 15 California community colleges can offer four-year degrees as long as they do not duplicate the fields of study offered by the University of California or California State Universities.

Some proposed degrees are in health care fields.

“As patients are being treated with more and more complexity and are being taken care of at their home, health providers need more education to do that very well,” said Joanne Spetz, assistant director for research strategy at the UC-San Francisco Center for the Health Professions.

The program is meant to help meet a demand for a million new workers in California’s workforce — about 40% of all jobs — in the next decade.

Experts estimate California needs 450,000 health care workers, with two- and four-year degrees, in the same timespan.

Spetz said community college programs in health care will also level the playing field between rural and urban settings, providing better trained health care workers in rural settings and expanding the access that health care professionals have to extend their education.

Part of the debate centers on whether it would be easier for a state university to start a new four-year degree program or for a community college to expand a two-year degree health care program they already have, which will require faculty with doctorate degrees or very competent faculty with master’s degrees for the upper division courses.

“There is a sense coming from the legislature to do these programs at the community college level rather than ask four-year colleges to do a new program,” Spetz said.

The baccalaureate programs are to be in place by the 2017-18 academic year, although some could begin as early as next fall.

Planning has already begun, with 36 of California’s 72 community college districts submitting letters of intention to develop programs to the state Chancellor’s office. Nine of those districts are proposing degrees in health care related fields.

The applications will be reviewed by a committee representing the  Chancellor, business and workforce community, and representatives of the California State Universities, University of California and community colleges administration, faculty and staff.

Under the program, lower division coursework would cost $46 and upper division coursework $84, for a total cost of the bachelor’s degree about $10,000.

Some of the proposals include:

  • Foothill-De Anza and State Center districts are proposing degrees in dental hygiene;
  • Glendale and San Diego districts are proposing degrees in health information management;
  • Napa Valley, Ohlone, San Mateo and Yosemite districts are proposing degrees in respiratory therapy or respiratory care;
  • Southwestern is proposing a degree in allied health: and
  • San Bernardino district is proposing degree programs in emergency services and allied health.

The bill creating the new program, SB 850 authored by Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego), was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) this fall.

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