RCCD considers applying to pilot program for baccalaureate degrees

Oct. 3, 2014

Article by Valerie Osier | News Editor

What was originally met with great enthusiasm at the genesis of legislative talks is now being met with cautious optimism by faculty at Riverside City College.

Senate Bill 850, signed by Governor Brown Sept. 28, is a measure to start a pilot program to allow California community colleges to offer bachelors degrees.

The Board of Trustees is considering proposing that Riverside Community College District be one of the 15 districts to offer a pilot baccalaureate program in California. The Board passed a resolution at the Sept. 16 meeting to keep the idea on the table.

The Board’s caution has to do with the legislative language in the bill text.

Richard Mahon, chairman of the Curriculum Committee at RCC, spoke at the Sept. 16 meeting asking the board to carefully reconsider passing the resolution to keep the idea on the table. He cited one of the restrictions in the bill text that requires the community colleges participating in the pilot program not offer any baccalaureate programs offered by any nearby four-year universities.

“A year ago, there would have been great enthusiasm … The enthusiasm that nursing and other faculty on campus might have had for the baccalaureate program absolutely evaporated when it became clear that CSU lobbyists and possibly also UC, made sure that whatever we might do, it might not overlap programs available at CSU,” Mahon said.

Senate Bill 850, by Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, states that California needs to produce one million more baccalaureate degrees than they already produce to remain economically competitive.

“We’re in a different time now,” Block said in a statement. “California is in a better position now to invest in closing our skills gap. We are in a fast-paced race that we can’t afford to lose. It’s wishful thinking to believe we can meet the challenge of producing another 60,000 bachelor degrees each year without using community colleges, and the longer we delay in using them, the further behind we will fall.”

Trustee Virginia Blumenthal says the Board is looking into seeing if Riverside is an under-served area, even if Cal-State Fullerton and San Bernardino are graduating as many nurses as possible and if exceptions can be made for high-needs areas.

According to Blumenthal, RCCD has been a front-runner of being considered for the pilot program. Nursing, Video Game Design and Physician’s Assistant are among the programs the Board is considering proposing for the pilot.

“I want us to be able to offer a bachelor’s degree, a baccalaureate, in nursing, for example,” Blumenthal said.

“Now, community colleges do have their limitations to a certain extent, but our faculty for nursing is basically ready to offer bachelor’s degrees in that, most of them have their PhDs and most of them that do not have them are in the process of getting them. Now I don’t believe that they need to offer bachelors in every single field, but I think that each college could offer one … However, the way they signed the bill, we cannot offer a degree in nursing.”

SB 850 requires that participating colleges start their baccalaureate program no later than the 2017-2018 academic year and have the first class of students complete their degree by the end of the 2022-2023 academic year.

The statewide baccalaureate degree program will consist of a maximum of 15 districts with one program each, according to the bill text. The districts vying for the program will submit proposals to the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges and will be approved by the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges.

“There are 15 districts that they are going to allow to offer the baccalaureates, but they want to spread them out across the state,” Blumenthal said. “I know that Riverside would like to be one of the pilot programs. We’ve been the front-runner for so many years. Its serves our students and it serves our community.”