When West Los Angeles College student Deanna Graves earlier this month shifted the tassel of her graduation cap indicating her achievement of a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene, she joined 135 students statewide in becoming the first cohort of California Community College Baccalaureate Degree graduates.
Graves planned to go out of state to complete her training to become a dental hygienist but discovered West Los Angeles College launched a bachelor’s degree program and decided to stay close to home.
By attending her local community college, Graves was able to receive comparable training to that of a four-year university and pay nearly $100,000 less in tuition. As a result, I suspect she has far less student loan debt and is projected to earn between $85,000 and $112,000 annually, according to data from the California Employment Development Department.
A new opportunity
Since the nation’s largest public system of community colleges was created in 1907, our open-access institutions have been restricted to granting associate degrees and certificates of achievement. Notably, opportunity and access to affordable, quality higher education expanded in 2014 when Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 850, creating a pilot program authorizing 15 of the state’s 114 community colleges to begin offering bachelor’s degrees in fall 2015.
The baccalaureates are focused on specific career and technical programs where labor demand exceeds the supply of credentialed and/or licensed professionals (SB 850 prohibits programs duplicative of those offered by the California State University or University of California systems).
At spring 2018 community college graduations statewide, students in programs from respiratory care at Skyline College in the Bay Area, to equine and ranch management at Feather River College in Plumas County, joined their fellow students – many of whom will be the first in their families to earn a college degree – in recognition of this important achievement.
With an abundance of distressing and occasionally dispiriting news about higher education in recent years, Californians can take pride in knowing that – at least provisionally – 135 students have increased significantly their prospects for upward economic and social mobility by earning bachelor’s degrees (with average costs of $10,000) in fields with demonstrable labor demand. And for place-bound students in populations and areas historically underserved by public higher education, access to an affordable and accessible community college baccalaureate can be the difference between limited employment prospects and an intellectually and economically rewarding career. Just ask students such as Deanna Graves.