MJC hopes to pilot vocational bachelor’s degrees

Modesto Junior College is poised to offer bachelor’s degrees in vocational fields under legislation signed Sunday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Senate Bill 850 will authorize up to 15 of the state’s 112 community colleges to pilot four-year degrees that do not duplicate those granted by California’s two university systems. The plan is to expand vocational programs to provide higher-level training sought by industry.

“Our existing programs in automotive technology, industrial technology and allied health technologies are strong options that will be part of the college planning discussions, along with emerging technology areas,” MJC President Jill Stearns said Tuesday. “It is exciting to have the opportunity to explore bachelor’s degree options to meet the growing advanced technical education needs of our community.”

Initial estimates put the cost of the community college degrees in the $10,000 to $12,000 range, far less than about $22,000 charged at California State University campuses, or the $52,800 tab of four years at a University of California campus.

“This can be a very cost-effective way for our students to complete their education locally. In addition, the community college baccalaureate degree meets the work force needs of our employers beyond the associate degree level,” said Yosemite Community College District Chancellor Joan Smith. “This has been a long time in coming to California community colleges.”

Columbia College will not compete with its YCCD sister college for the new California Community College Bachelor’s Degree program, President Angela Fairchilds said. “Columbia College is interested in partnering with four-year institutions to have local access to that level of higher education,” she said. “However, we support other community colleges who are better positioned to offer bachelor’s degrees.”

Community colleges chosen for the pilot program will charge $130 per upper-division unit, compared with $46 charged for lower-division work. The plan is to start offering bachelor’s degrees by the 2017-18 school year.