Community colleges offer four-year programs as affordable pathways to bachelor’s degrees

Students in California are no longer restricted to four-year institutions to pursue a bachelor’s degree, as an increasing number of the state’s 116 community colleges are offering four-year programs in specialized, high-demand fields, including dental hygiene, bio-manufacturing, and automotive technology, The Los Angeles Times reports. The relative affordability of community college bachelor’s degrees taps into a student population that otherwise wouldn’t attend a four-year college, experts say.

“If [students] want to do a bachelor’s degree, we should not have barriers. Period,” Sonya Christian, the chancellor of the California Community Colleges, tells the LA Times.

Since 2014, California’s community colleges have offered four-year degrees through the Community College Baccalaureate Degree Program (CCB), which aims to provide accessible, affordable, and practical high-quality degrees to community college students. A 2021 law made the program permanent, allowing the state to approve up to 30 bachelor’s degree programs each academic year, as long as they do not duplicate those offered by the California State University and University of California systems. A total of 31 baccalaureate programs across 27 community colleges are either currently available to students or have been approved and will soon be offered, EdSource reports. Nationally, CCB degrees are now offered in 23 states and across 121 institutions, according to the Community College Baccalaureate Association.

Students said affordability was “the most common benefit” of CCB programs, according to a study from California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office looking at existing community college baccalaureate programs. A study published in April by the Civil Rights Project at University of California, Los Angeles, also found that CCB programs not only help the state meet its needs for a college-educated workforce but also reduce barriers to education by offering affordable pathways to four-year degrees and more flexible course schedules.

Tuition for a CCB program in specialized fields, such as dental hygiene, can cost about $10,000 for California residents, compared to similar programs at private institutions that can reach $120,000, the LA Times reports. Attending CCB programs at local community colleges also means students save on transportation costs and can work in their communities after graduation.

“The value proposition that exists currently is you have to move, you have to go somewhere else in order to take advantage of opportunities,” Cecilia Rios-Aguilar, an education professor at UCLA who co-authored the report, told the LA Times. “And here we’re saying, wait a second, you can stay in the community where you’re invested. Where you want to be.”

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