Chalk up another threat to higher education as we know it. California's state legislature has passed a bill that will allow a small number of community colleges to offer bachelor's degrees.
If democratic Governor Jerry Brown signs the bill, the state will be the 22nd to expand the reach of community colleges.
But students who are looking for degrees in philosophy or literature on the cheap are going to be disappointed. Part of the agreement is that community colleges won't compete with traditional four-year schools.
"We’re not going to see bachelor's programs in English, math, history, sociology, chemistry and all of those fields that are traditional liberal arts fields," said Constance Carroll, Chancellor of the San Diego Community College District, and a member of the California Community College Baccalaureate Degree Study Group. "What we will see are baccalaureate programs in workforce fields where there is high demand."
Fields like dental hygiene, information technology, and automotive-technology management.
"They are degrees that are intended to help put people to work," said Deborah L. Floyd, professor of higher education at Florida Atlantic University and author of "The Community College Baccalaureate: Emerging Trends and Policy Issues".
In many cases, these are fields that didn’t require a four-year degree in the past. "Employers are expecting a more educated and trained work force," said Floyd.
Compared to a traditional college education, a community college BA can be a steal. In California, Carroll said tuition will be $10,560. Total.
It’s gotta make traditional four-year schools nervous, right?
"We’re not duplicating anything that the University or California or Cal State offers," said California State Senator, Marty Block .
The schools facing real competition, he said, will be for-profit colleges, who offer these specialized degrees at much higher prices.