A pilot program in California allows 15 community colleges to offer four-year degrees. Fresno City College is not on that list, and it won’t be for the time being.
That’s because a plan outlined in Senate Bill 769 to double the program to 30 schools was watered down in the legislative process and eventually shelved.
Who opposed it? These teachers unions: California Faculty Association, California Federation of Teachers, California Teachers Association and the Faculty of Association of California Community Colleges.
The bill’s author, Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), had hoped to create more graduates with bachelor’s degrees.
He told GV Wire:
“This bill is about the future workforce in our state. … Community colleges account for more than half of undergraduate enrollment in California — open access, wide geographic distribution, and relatively low fees make them especially popular; however, only one in 10 community college students transfers to a four-year university.”
Jennifer Baker with California Teachers Association testified at a senate hearing last April.
“What we are concerned about, is that at the end of the day, community college students, who have often been disproportionately underserved and disproportionately students of color — that they may ultimately have to supplement these programs, the counseling services, the intervention services. All of the other services that are offered in addition to the classroom time, who’s ultimately paying for those services?
“We want to have facts. We believe facts are important. Until we see those facts and we can verify that the rest of the community college student population is not going to have to supplement these programs, then we don’t believe it is prudent to change the dates or expand the number of programs,” she said.
Sen. Hill’s reaction to their objection? “That’s politics.”
GV Wire asked Fresno City College president Carole Goldsmith if her school would benefit from offering a four-year degree.
“Oh, absolutely!” she responded. “The one that makes the most sense is our nursing program. We are the No. 1 producer of RNs in the state; we’re the second-largest producer in the nation. If you look at the sheer number of units, it just makes sense that we would be able to offer a bachelor’s degree.”
Castro: Current System Works
Joining teacher unions, the University of California and CSU systems at one point objected to the plan. Fresno State President Joseph Castro feels the current relationship is working just fine.
“I haven’t sensed the need for four-year degrees at community colleges in our area, because I think they feel like Fresno State has been growing and serving the needs of the region,” Castro said. “I anticipate over time that we will continue to see more transfer students. I think that is a good thing. That means students are succeeding at the community colleges. We are in such a great position to provide the four-year degree, the baccalaureate degree. They are in the best position to provide the associate degrees and certificates. We’ve been working well in that way. I don’t anticipate any major changes going forward.”
Goldsmith is also pushing for more funding for community colleges.
“California community colleges are the workforce engine for California. We’re receiving $7,949 per full-time student. That’s simply not enough to be able to do what we’re doing. We need to have a real conversation with each other, with our legislators and talk about priorities. Priorities for the state, priorities for the Valley, specifically priorities for our students,” she said.
Newsom Welcomes Debate
As lieutenant governor, Gavin Newsom sits on the supervising boards of both the Cal State and U-C systems. He is open to changes.
“I’m absolutely all in that debate and open to argument about a 21st century community college system that may include different pathways for degrees,” Newsom said.
The bill passed in the Senate in May, with the support of the entire Valley delegation. But it failed to make it out of an Assembly committee. That means it won’t be passing this year.
Hill says he’s not done: “This issue is important to our future workforce and I’ll continue efforts to advance it.”
Drew Phelps contributed to this story.