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California Community Colleges moving forward with bachelor's degree approvals despite lawmaker objections

The Los Angeles City College Student Union building is seen in Los Angeles, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.
Damian Dovarganes
AP Photo
The Los Angeles City College Student Union building is seen in Los Angeles, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.

California’s community college system will continue processing applications for new baccalaureate degrees, even after top lawmakers requested a pause on doing so following complaints from California State University officials.

“The Chancellor’s Office has not stopped processing cycle 2 applications at this time,” Melissa Villarin, a spokesperson for the state chancellor’s office that oversees California’s 116 community colleges, told EdSource on Tuesday.

Assembly Bill 927 allows the chancellor’s office to approve up to 30 new bachelor’s degree programs annually at community colleges across the state. The approvals are done across two cycles each year, and a maximum of 15 programs can be approved per cycle. But last week, Assemblymember Mike Fong, D-Alhambra, and state Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, wrote to the chancellor’s office to request a pause on the current cycle of applications. Fong is the chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, and Newman chairs the Senate Education Committee.

In a response letter issued Tuesday to Fong and Newman, the community college system’s interim chancellor, Daisy Gonzales, cited “strict timelines” that the system must meet under state law for processing applications and described plans to move forward with this cycle’s applications. The system received 29 applications for the current cycle and wants to approve 14 of them.

In a statement to EdSource Tuesday, Fong said he appreciated the response from the chancellor’s office and called on the community colleges and CSU to work together to resolve their disputes. “As a former community college trustee, I was very supportive of baccalaureate degrees in community colleges, and as chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, I remain supportive,” he said.

When reached for comment, CSU spokesperson Amy Bentley-Smith said system officials had “not received any communication” from the community college chancellor’s office Tuesday. Bentley-Smith added, though, that CSU “appreciates Chairs Newman and Fong’s call for a pause” to the application process. “It is imperative that the working group be able to come together and build a review process that ensures the law’s requirements, particularly regarding duplication, are followed,” Bentley-Smith said.

The initial letter from the lawmakers, first reported by CalMatters, came weeks after the community college system approved a new bachelor’s degree program in applied fire management at Feather River College in Plumas County. The chancellor’s office approved that program despite formal objections by the 23-campus CSU system, which argued that the program duplicated offerings at CSU. AB 927 stipulates that new baccalaureate programs at community colleges can’t duplicate programs at CSU or the University of California. Community college officials disagreed with CSU’s belief that the program was duplicative. Kevin Trutna, Feather River’s president, told EdSource that the Feather River region and its forests are much different than regions served by any CSU campus.

During a CSU board of trustees meeting in March, the system’s interim chancellor, Jolene Koester, said she was “shocked and disheartened” that the community college system approved the Feather River program and said CSU was “considering all available next steps in this matter.”

In their letter, Fong and Newman called for the convening of representatives from both systems and the UC that would “better define program duplication” and come up with a resolution process when disputes arise.

“It is in this spirit of collaboration that we strongly urge the Community College Chancellor’s Office and Board of Governors to pause cycle two applications,” Fong and Newman wrote.

But at least as of now, the chancellor’s office has decided against doing so. At least one college, Los Angeles Valley College, has already received the go-ahead for a new bachelor’s program. The college announced earlier this month that it received provisional approval from the chancellor’s office for a Bachelor of Science degree program in respiratory therapy.

The chancellor’s office is supposed to finalize approvals for cycle two applications by June.

“AB 927 established strict timelines for the Baccalaureate Degree Program, which the Board of Governors and Chancellor’s Office is required to meet as part of our statutory requirements for the program’s second cycle, and for which community college districts across the state have dedicated substantial time and effort to preparing degree program proposals,” Gonzales, the interim chancellor, wrote in her response letter to Fong and Newman.

The 14 applications that met the approval criteria are currently being reviewed by the system’s four-year university partners, which include CSU, the University of California and the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities, which represents the state’s private nonprofit universities.

Gonzales added that “much like our first cycle,” the chancellor’s office anticipates that the four-year systems will agree on approving “many of the applications.”

In the first cycle, the only objection made was by CSU to the Feather River program.

In her response letter, Gonzales also said that the community college and CSU systems have already established an intersegmental work group “to address dispute resolution” and had their first meeting on April 13.

Michael covers higher education. Prior to joining EdSource, he was a reporter in Washington, D.C. He received a B.A. in journalism from Syracuse University.
EdSource believes that access to a quality education is an important right of all children. We further believe that an informed, involved public is necessary to strengthen California’s schools for the benefit of the state’s children, its civic life, and its economy.