California lawmakers weigh 2 bills to ease students’ path to a bachelor’s

by Emma

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Dive Brief: 

  • California lawmakers are considering two bills that aim to make it easier for students to obtain four-year degrees. 

  • One bill would allow community colleges to award bachelor’s degrees in high-demand fields, so long as they don’t duplicate those offered by California’s public universities. Another would bolster an existing program that smooths transfers from two- to four-year colleges. 

  • The pandemic has underscored the need to ease transfer pathways and provide students with more affordable education options. 

Dive Insight: 

One bill would make permanent a pilot program that allows California community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees. In 2015, lawmakers approved 15 schools to offer 11 programs as part of the test, EdSource reported

California is one of at least two dozen states that allow community colleges to offer four-year degrees, usually to meet workforce shortages or address educational deserts. States often mandate that these degrees don’t compete with public four-year colleges’ offerings. 

An analysis last year of California’s pilot found mixed results. About half of the programs produced graduates who were better prepared for industry roles and needed less on-the-job-training than other candidates. However, small cohort sizes — some of which averaged fewer than 15 students — suggested low student demand for the programs. 

The report concluded that “more promising options” exist for community colleges to meet workforce needs, such as adding more short-term training options and improving transfer pathways to four-year universities. 

Another legislative proposal aims to smooth transfers by strengthening an existing California initiative, called the Associate Degree for Transfer program.

Lawmakers approved ADT about a decade ago to create associate degree programs that give recipients priority admission and guaranteed junior standing at California State University campuses. 

Community colleges have since awarded more than 200,000 ADT degrees. “When (students) know about the pathway, they’re super interested,” said Audrey Dow, senior vice president at The Campaign for College Opportunity, which helped spearhead the legislation. “They don’t need extensive or intrusive counseling about what courses they need to take; it’s mapped out for them.”

However, most community college graduates aren’t earning ADT degrees, according to a report last year from the organization. The new bill would create a committee to set transfer attainment goals and automatically place students on an ADT pathway if one exists for their major, according to a news release from California Assemblymember Marc Berman, who introduced the proposal. 

States that don’t ease transfer pathways could lose out to private universities. Southern New Hampshire University, an online megauniversity, struck a deal with Pennsylvania’s community colleges last year to allow their students to transfer up to 90 credits toward the school’s online bachelor’s degrees and receive a 10% tuition discount.

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