California Senate Bill 850, introduced by state Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego), would allow up to 20 community-college districts to offer a new, special type of baccalaureate degree in a new pilot program. This new initiative would give students the opportunity to earn four-year degrees at local junior colleges and thus increase the accessibility of higher education. With rising market demand for skilled workers, SB850 will help supplement traditional, four-year colleges and offer a cost-efficient way to attain a degree.
If passed, the bill would place accredited students and adults in high-demand career fields and improve California’s employment outlook. Based on the California Employment Development statistics, California currently has an 8.4 percent unemployment rate with approximately 3 million people out of work. Under SB850, community colleges can create a four-year degree program that is not offered by any accredited four-year college nearby and streamline entry into the job market for degree holders. While this has obvious benefits for high-school students matriculating into college, the plan is even more beneficial for people that are currently unemployed, as the program could offer them higher education opportunities so that they can re-enter the job market. Ultimately, the goal of the bill is to create one million bachelor’s-degree jobs by 2025, which is crucial in maintaining California’s economic competitiveness.
In addition, it allows students to achieve a four-year degree without the burdensome fees of a traditional, four-year institution and lead low-income workers to high-earning fields. This would open up several, new career options for community-college graduates — Time Magazine reports that software developers, operations managers and registered nurses all require a minimum education background of a four-year bachelor’s degree. The bill also specifically mandates that baccalaureate programs’ tuition should not exceed the cost of attendance of full-time students at a California State University campus.
Despite student and professor skepticism over the quality of education and the credibility of the degree, the four-year baccalaureate program is not a replacement for the traditional college degree, but rather a reform of community-college education. The bill will amend the California Education Master Plan, which limited community colleges to 14th grade-level education, and will lead to new course curricula designed by select community-college districts.
SB850’s education reform in community colleges will ultimately foster a more educated and qualified workforce. By allowing baccalaureate programs in junior colleges, students and adults alike can attain higher educations and four-year degrees at lower costs. It will not only create more jobs in the next decade, but also place talented and qualified workers into demanding fields. If passed, SB850 will change the blueprint of community-college education and open up more opportunities to disadvantaged groups.