Despite passing on the California Senate floor with only two votes in opposition, Senate Bill 769, which would have expanded and extended a 4-year degree program at selected community colleges, fell victim to the immense power of special interest lobbying.

SB 769, authored by Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), sought to extend the existing Baccalaureate Pilot Program from a current sunset of 2023-24 to 2028-29 and expand its coverage to 10 more campuses. Currently, the program operates out of 15 campuses and authorizes each campus to create one program in which they may offer a bachelor’s degree.

Typically, these degrees are offered in technical fields in which the particular college already excels. For example, Modesto Junior College now offers a degree in Respiratory Care, and Bakersfield College can grant degrees in Industrial Automation.

However, after passing the State Senate with ease, the bill met opposition in the Assembly committee process, where it’s proposal to expand to ten additional colleges was gutted, leaving only the program extension intact.

The issue was one of competition, as the California State University and University of California voiced the strongest concern. Beyond face value, the conflict is simple: the three systems are in constant competition with one another, primarily for monetary resources, and adding to what one branch offers only increases their allocation of those resources, usually at the expense of the others.

In addition to these two special interest powerhouses, the bill also faced opposition from the California Teachers’ Association and the California Faculty Association, two of the other heavy-hitters in the field of education lobbying. Faced with challenges like these, just about any bill would be doomed to failure, especially if the public is essentially kept in the dark, as they were on the uncomplicated, less-than-sexy SB 769.

Following the Assembly Higher Education committee’s decision to amend the bill, the CSU, UC, and CFA government affairs teams withdrew their opposition to the bill. However, the CTA chose to remain in opposition, explaining their rationale by stating that “BA/BS programs do not fit the traditional mission of community colleges” and arguing that this program would detract from that “traditional mission” by diverting resources away from the creation of more class space and courses for existing students. Furthermore, they argue that the new programs would not offer the same opportunities as those already existing in the CSU and UC systems and, lastly, that the program simply has not been in action for a sufficient period to warrant its expansion.

For better or worse, the removal of the bill’s expansion provision, whether it proceeds to become law or not, represents a special interest victory.

SB 769 was re-referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee after minor amendments in a vote yesterday and is awaiting the scheduling of its next hearing with Appropriations.

Contact Drew Phelps

Phone: 559-440-8321 / e-mail

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