Wednesday, April 17, 2024

HomeEducationWe need more community college bachelor’s degrees to fuel our economy

We need more community college bachelor’s degrees to fuel our economy

Credit: West Los Angeles College

West LA College offers a bachelor of science degree in dental hygiene.

California is poised to overtake Germany as the world’s fourth-largest economy. Resilience, innovation and, as Gov. Gavin Newsom put it, our “conveyor belt of talent” combine to build economic might. Keeping that conveyor belt strong means disrupting outdated beliefs about which institutions of higher education can award the types of degrees that will move us along this conveyor belt.

Recently signed legislation expanded the authority of California’s community colleges to offer more bachelor’s degrees in industry sectors that lead to better wages and social mobility. This builds on the successful community college baccalaureate pilot program started in 2014 that established career-specific bachelor’s degrees to help meet workforce needs in more areas of the state. Most recently, the board of governors approved additional degree programs in high-demand career fields to match California’s workforce needs.

As a student leader and community college student, I know firsthand this need is real and will help so many of my fellow students who are looking to create a better future. The Student Senate, representing California’s 1.8 million community college students, appreciates our partnership with the California Community Colleges board of governors and the Chancellor’s Office to ensure that workforce-focused baccalaureate degrees can be offered throughout the community college system to meet the unique needs of our communities and diverse students. It is time to help this approach evolve and thrive.

Graduates of community college bachelor’s degree programs earn twice as much as they did before obtaining their degree, with nearly 98% of students reporting their employment in the same field of study as their degree.

“A bachelor’s degree goes a long way in the health information management field, especially on the information technology and systems analysis side of things,” said Victoria Cunningham, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Mesa College and now works as a health information management operations supervisor at a major San Diego medical center.

Students like Cunningham say their community college bachelor’s degree opened career doors and helped them graduate without getting mired in student debt.

California’s community college student population mirrors California’s demographic makeup, with 116 different colleges educating students in the state’s most diverse communities. Our colleges are sources of economic and social mobility for countless Californians and account for more than 4% of the state’s gross domestic product.

Many students are adult learners and working parents who don’t have the luxury of picking up and moving to a different part of the state to attend a California State University or University of California campus. These students, once called “nontraditional,” are the new normal and are equally talented and deserving of earning a bachelor’s degree.

The California community college bachelor’s degree programs are tailored to workforce and training needs, and some even help our state address familiar threats. This week, the California Community Colleges board of governors approved additional bachelor’s degrees for the next generation of students, including Feather River College, launching a bachelor of science degree program in ecosystem restoration and applied fire management. Last month, two other programs were approved: Moorpark Community College will launch a bachelor of science degree program in biomanufacturing, and San Diego City College will launch a bachelor’s degree program in cyberdefense and analysis. Our colleges will continue to work closely with regional employers, industry leaders and workforce boards to identify and address the needs of California’s economy.

The board of governors, the governor, and the state Legislature have embraced a bold vision to increase degree attainment in California at a critical time for our state. Given capacity restrictions at the University of California and California State University, meeting that goal is unlikely without the continued expansion of workforce-oriented bachelor’s degree programs at community colleges. This new authority ensures California Community Colleges will continue to play a critical role in fueling our economy and keep pace with the 24 other states already offering baccalaureate degrees.

If we want to meet the overwhelming demand and reach the degree attainment goals of the governor and the Legislature, we must protect and continue to expand community college bachelor’s degree programs.

We must continue to challenge the status quo and push solutions that help our higher education systems keep up with a highly diverse student population and workforce. Community colleges are affordable, accessible and ready to train the next generation of Californians where they are. Awarding bachelor’s degrees addresses inequities and helps keep our economic expansion on track even in uncertain times.

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Clemaus Tervalon is president of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges, representing all 1.8 million students, and a student at College of Alameda.

The opinions in this commentary are those of the author. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.

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