Bill may expand four-year degrees to community colleges

by Quinn Owen

California community colleges may soon be able to offer four-year degrees thanks to a bill introduced by California State Sen. Marty Block of the 39th District, which includes the San Diego State area.

Bill SB 850 would allow community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees for an eight-year period, increasing access to affordable education as the California State University system works on increasing enrollment.

The original draft of the bill never specified what types of degrees could be offered by community colleges, but political pressure prompted an amendment. According to Grossmont College Dean of Nursing Deborah Yaddow, the California Nursing Association did not support the original draft of Sen. Block’s bill since it would allow students to receive credentials in nursing from community and junior colleges.

According to Maria Lopez, Sen. Block’s communication director, amendments are common for bills within the California State Legislature.

“It is not unusual for a bill to be amended …  this is the third time offering the bill,” Lopez said.

Now, the bill explicitly excludes degree programs that are already offered by four-year CSU and University of California schools, including four-year nursing degrees.

“Why duplicate programs that already exist?” Lopez said.

Yaddow said bachelor’s degrees in nursing should be offered by community colleges to help alleviate the high demand for nurses. Accredited nursing such as the one at SDSU are some of the most impacted degree programs in California and in the case of SDSU only admit between 50 and 80 students per semester. The problem is exasperated by the Affordable Care Act, which, according to Yaddow, will lead to an increasing demand for health care professionals.

In an interview with KPBS News last week, Yaddow said Grossmont was ready to roll out their four-year degree program if the law had been passed. She said 21 other states already allow community and junior colleges to offer four-year degrees in some fields of study.

SDSU Resident Advisor and nursing sophomore Alexander Gray said allowing community colleges to do this would not be a good idea.

“We would be setting them (community college students) up for failure,” Gray said.

Gray said there doesn’t seem to be an alternative solution to the highly-impacted SDSU nursing program or the growing demand for nurses in the San Diego area.

Nursing senior Lauren Lorber said community colleges should offer four-year bachelor’s degrees for nursing to help deal with the demand for nurses.

“I think as long as the community colleges are properly accredited and are reasonably priced then they would be a great idea,” Lorber said. “It would alleviate the demand to go to for profit schools such as Kaplan.”

Although nursing is not included in the current bill, the bill does address the issue of higher education vocation training. With the new version of the bill, current community colleges will be able to offer four-year degree programs in areas such as radiology, auto mechanics or other vocational specialties, according to Lopez.

The SDSU School of Nursing and CSU Chancellors office declined to comment.