Legislature Authorizes Community Colleges to Offer Bachelor’s Degrees on a Pilot Basis. Chapter 747 of 2014 (SB 850, Block) authorizes the California Community Colleges (CCC) to offer bachelor’s degrees on a pilot basis at 15 community college districts. Generally, community colleges are limited to offering associate degrees and certificates, with the awarding of bachelor’s degrees reserved for the state’s universities. Under Chapter 747, each pilot community college district may offer one bachelor’s program at one college site. Programs must be in a subject area with unmet bachelor’s level workforce needs. Additionally, the programs were to be selected in consultation with the California State University (CSU) and the University of California (UC) to ensure a district does not duplicate a bachelor’s degree already offered by one of the universities. Participating districts were required to begin enrolling students by fall 2017.
Pilot to Be Evaluated in 2018 and 2022. Chapter 747 requires our office to conduct an interim evaluation of the pilot program in 2018 and a final evaluation in 2022. This report fulfills the interim evaluation requirement. Chapter 747 sunsets July 1, 2023 unless a later statute deletes or extends that date.
CCC Made Rapid Progress in Implementing Pilot. Within four months of Chapter 747’s enactment, the Chancellor’s Office selected 15 programs through a competitive process and received preliminary approval for the programs from the CCC Board of Governors. All programs received final approval within another four months. Ten of the pilot degree programs began enrolling students in fall 2016 and all 15 programs enrolled students in fall 2017.
Accelerated Approval Process Resulted in Limited Review and Consultation. The rapid approval process required that CCC leaders make decisions about the proposed bachelor’s degrees with substantially less information than routinely provided for new community college programs. Moreover, consultation with the universities was very limited and CCC approved some degree programs over CSU’s objections.
Only Some Approved Programs Have Strong Evidence of Need for Bachelor’s Degrees . . . A majority of the approved bachelor’s programs are in fields where the typical entry‑level requirement is below a bachelor’s degree. Moreover, for most of the approved programs, state licensing and industry certification do not require a bachelor’s degree. Some of the approved programs in health careers, however, have stronger workforce justification due to increasing accreditation requirements in their fields.
. . . But Local Employers and Students Are Positive About the Programs. Notwithstanding the lack of evidence supporting the need for some of the programs, the local employers and students we interviewed cited various reasons for liking them. They emphasized that the programs (1) were more convenient than other bachelor’s degree programs, (2) provided more nuanced job preparation tailored to local needs, (3) fostered close relationships with employers that were resulting in internship opportunities and early job offers for students, and (4) promoted better job retention due to hiring locally trained students.
Discontinuation of Some Associate Degree Programs a Concern. Most of the pilot colleges indicate that they plan to continue offering related associate degrees alongside their new bachelor’s degrees. Four colleges, however, are discontinuing their existing associate degrees in favor of offering only their new bachelor’s degrees. With one exception (occupational studies), we see no justification for discontinuing these programs.
Concerns About Current Evaluation and Sunset Provisions. Under the current provisions, very little student outcome data will be available at the final evaluation date to help ascertain whether the program is effective. This is because colleges would stop admitting students several years ahead of the sunset date to ensure the students can complete their degrees while the program remains authorized. Extending the sunset date, however, would have a major drawback. A longer enrollment period would work to further engrain the program in the status quo, potentially making terminating the pilot more difficult even if the outcome data show that the pilot was ineffective. To allow for a more robust evaluation without entrenching the program for many years, the Legislature simultaneously could permit colleges to continue enrolling new students through the fall 2021 term and move up the final evaluation one year—to 2021 from 2022.
Initial Student Cohorts Demographically Similar to CCC Students Who Transfer to Universities. This finding could imply either that the pilot is expanding access to bachelor’s degrees or shifting student demand away from the universities. Students we interviewed generally indicated they are place‑bound and unable to move for a university program, thus suggesting that the program is expanding access. With respect to financial aid, the share of CCC pilot program students receiving need‑based aid is similar to the shares for CSU and UC undergraduates.
Financial Data Needs Significant Improvement. Although our office worked closely with the CCC Chancellor’s Office to identify financial data reporting requirements, the initial financial data reports that CCC submitted in September 2017 had a number of problems. The problems we encountered are common to the first round of data collection for a new program. Nonetheless, the data problems are such that we are unable to draw meaningful conclusions about institutional and student costs. The CCC Chancellor’s Office has committed to working closely with our office to improve data collection for the remainder of the implementation period.
Interim Findings Suggest Caution in Extending Pilot. Since enactment of Chapter 747, the Legislature has faced pressure to expand the bachelor’s degree pilot program. Given numerous concerns about program selection and consultation, a lack of any graduation or workforce outcomes to date, and problems in financial reporting, the Legislature may wish to exercise caution in expanding the bachelor’s degree pilot program in advance of the final evaluation.
Fundamental Questions Remain. As the Legislature thinks more about the future of the pilot, it continues to face five fundamental questions: (1) Are bachelor’s degrees detracting from CCC’s core mission? (2) Could improved collaboration between CCC and CSU yield better results than CCC independently offering more bachelor’s degrees? (3) Is a bachelor’s degree the best solution for addressing certain employers’ needs? (4) If more bachelor’s programs are warranted, to what extent should they include content that overlaps with university courses, especially if such overlap means students are trained for a broader range of jobs? (5) What should be the role of employers in training workers?
State law authorizes the California Community Colleges (CCC) to award associate degrees and certificates, generally limiting the awarding of more advanced degrees to the state’s universities. As an exception to this rule, Chapter 747 of 2014 (SB 850, Block) authorizes CCC to offer baccalaureate (bachelor’s) degrees on a pilot basis at 15 community college districts. Chapter 747 requires the Legislative Analyst’s Office to conduct an interim evaluation of the pilot program. This report fulfills that statutory requirement. Below, we provide background on CCC’s role in California’s higher education system and describe the main components of the statewide pilot program. We then (1) describe and evaluate the selection of the pilot bachelor’s degree programs, (2) provide initial information about students participating in the pilot programs, and (3) discuss the financing of these programs. We conclude by identifying issues for the Legislature to consider as the 15 colleges continue implementing the pilot program.