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BA Watch
California Puts the Shine on Community Colleges

What’s the difference between a community college and a state university? It’s getting smaller and smaller, as least when it comes to degree-granting. Community colleges around the country are morphing into baccalaureate factories, and California is the latest to allow some of its colleges to go down that route. The LA Times reports:

36 campuses and districts that have said they plan to apply for an opportunity to offer four-year degrees. It would be the first time community colleges in California would be eligible to offer more than associate’s degrees.

Schools that are selected could provide thousands of workers to the state in areas that need more employees, including the healthcare and automotive industries.

Students also would be given a chance to get a higher degree while paying lower, community college fees. A four-year degree at a community college would cost about $10,000 in tuition, roughly half the cost of attending a Cal State campus, according to estimates. Backers say it has the potential to be a major advance for California higher education, offering more class opportunities at lower costs.

A $10,000 degree is a pretty good deal, and it sounds like these programs are appropriately focused on career development. That’s what America’s higher education system definitely needs more of: cheaper ways to prepare students for jobs that actually exist.

We’ve been watching this trend for a while, and while it seems promising on the whole, there’s reason for caution. It’s possible that boosting community college degrees to the B.A. level is a sign of credentialism run amok, as the bachelor’s degree becomes a requirement for more and more jobs.

We will say this, however: Given California’s well publicized fights over UC tuition hikes (and well publicized economic problems in general), it’s nice to see a much needed resource get cheaper rather than more expensive in the sunshine state.

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  • FriendlyGoat

    What better way to reform the traditional 4-year colleges than give them some serious price (and quality) competition?

    (The “quality” competition could be less elitism, less social pressure, less Greek life, less sports-show emphasis, and likely less alcohol and sexual assault in the non-residential setting.)

  • Josephbleau

    I think the most efficient way to do education is to make Old State U a senior college for juniors and seniors at the U/G level plus a good grad school. If everyone paid $5K for the first two years and transferred they could accept twice as many students for the last two years. This will never happen as it upsets everyone’s rice bowl. Old PU wants large freshman classes they can stick in 400 student lectures instead of having to support smaller specialized upper level courses and they need a constant inflow of new young kids to support the social scene. They also want a dedicated group of alumni without split loyalty. Students would suffer because the well off could not get away from home and begin their independent beer soaked party years, and many kids look around the campus in their first year and decide to do well academically even if they were not so good in high school. Fortune 500 companies are starting to recruit heavily at the big state schools and are not so interested in what is coming out of the ivies and privates except for certain prestige areas like law for the white shoe firms and of course University tenure spots. Still the main thing that matters is if the school you went to is very hard to get into. That is where the future hiring decision is typically made. Under the current plan, major state schools are very hard to get into and this is where elitism is fostered today. except in Illinois where families of the politicians get first place.

  • Jagneel

    What’s the difference between a community college and a state university?

    Well faculty at CC are very good at what they do but they are just not qualified to teach advanced undergrad courses.
    Most of them have watered-down masters degrees that are barely equivalent to BA/BS from top schools.
    This is especially true for STEM fields. A faculty with masters in math, for example, is just barely qualified to teach single-variable calculus. Multivariable calculus, on the other hand. Forget about it, but still official they are ‘qualified’ to teach it and they do, sort of.

  • wigwag

    Florida is the “sunshine state,” California is the “golden state.”

  • The Incredible Sulk

    If everyone has a four year degree, a four year degree will be worthless.

    • Pete

      What diminishes the value of a college diploma is not so much that everyone has one but that the academic standards have been diluted so that almost everyone can get one.

  • Bruce_William_Smith

    This policy is absolutely inflationary, regardless of what the article’s last paragraph claims, since it renders existing high school “diplomas” and associate’s degrees less valuable, and requires two extra years of fee-paying higher education to qualify for the relevant types of employment.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    The competition for students is getting vicious, this is a very good thing. It is the “Feedback of Competition” that forces continuous improvements in Quality, Service, and Price in a free market.
    The College education establishment is breaking down and losing its monopoly on certified college degrees. Soon a certified college degree will be available on-line, classes will be purchased from world renowned professors who will be rock stars selling tens of thousands of classes at prices a fraction of today’s tuition’s.

  • teapartydoc

    This is the real beginning of the bursting of the higher ed bubble. Many of the courses these community colleges offer are on-line, and for reasons some wouldn’t expect. Our youngest son home schooled for most of high school, but his senior year has been exclusively through the local community college. This semester he ran out of math classes to take as they have nothing beyond 2nd semester calculus (the credits automatically transfer to the state college, by the way) and the only thing left was a calculus for technology class that wasn’t offered locally. He’ll be taking it from a campus in a nearby town on-line.

    The drop in post-secondary enrollment last year was all in community colleges. However, those that are light on their feet and ambitious enough will be able to compete with the big boys soon enough. Just like the surgeons, led by the likes of Ambroise Pare, were able to compete with the better politically connected physicians of Europe.

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