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CA community colleges facing greater role; questions

January 25, 2018

California’s efforts to grow the role of its community colleges (CCs) was reinforced with the governor’s recent budget request to establish a fully online public community college, while a report reviewing the state’s established pilot program to offer baccalaureate degrees at some CCs presented some serious questions.

California online community college proposed

Gov. Jerry Brown included $120 million in his FY 2018-2019 budget request to establish a fully online public community college to provide sub-associate degree credentials and training across the state. Already serving approximately one fourth of all community college students across the nation through a network of 114 community colleges, the state sees an online institution as a way of reaching and educating more of the 2.5 million Californians between the ages of 25-34 who have earned only a high school diploma.

The California community college system already has had success with online completion rates for existing offerings – a criticism made of many online programs. The state’s system reports completion rates have improved steadily each of the last four years, achieving 66.7 percent in 2016-2017. 

The governor’s funding request includes a one-time appropriation of $100 million for course development, infrastructure, new online content, seeking accreditation, and overall design and development. An additional $20 million is requested for operations. Students would begin enrolling by the fourth quarter of 2019, if the funding request is approved by the state legislature. More details are available here.

According to documents accompanying the governor’s budget proposal, the new college’s “initial focus will be collating and developing quality content and programs that provide vocational training, career advancement opportunities, and credentialing for careers in child development, the service sector, advanced manufacturing, healthcare, and in-home supportive services, among other areas.”  The administration also expects the new online college to provide professional development courses for faculty and staff of the 114 community college system.

CCC baccalaureate pilot program faces questions

While the online offering is under consideration, a recent report evaluating the California Community Colleges (CCC) pilot program to grant baccalaureate degrees raised several concerns with the speed of its rollout and implementation. The legislatively-mandated evaluation urged caution in expanding the pilot before more data is gathered, although the program was acknowledged to have favorable feedback and increase access for place-bound students. The pilot program was approved in 2014 with rapid progress resulting in 10 of the programs enrolling students by fall of 2016, and all 15 enrolling in fall of 2017. However, the evaluation by the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) reveals that the quick turnaround required CCC leaders to make decisions about the proposed degrees with less information than routinely provided for new community college programs and that consultation with the universities was limited.

The LAO also found that only some of the approved programs have strong evidence of need for bachelor’s degrees while the majority are in fields where the typical entry-level requirement is below a bachelor’s degree. Several fundamental questions surrounding the pilot were posed by the LAO, including whether the bachelor’s degrees are detracting from CCC’s core mission, whether more collaboration between CCC and California State University would yield better results, and whether the bachelor’s degree is the best solution for meeting certain employers’ needs. However, the report says local employers and students that were interviewed were positive about the programs, citing their convenience, more nuanced job preparations tailored to local needs, close relationships with employers and better job retention. The CCC pilot program is currently due to sunset in 2023

The continuing trend across the country for states to broaden the role of community colleges by offering applied baccalaureate degrees was detailed in an earlier Digest article.

Californiacommunity college, state budgets