Editorial: Community colleges can contribute to California’s need for degrees

Photo by Cameron Yong
Photo by Cameron Yong

Community colleges in California have recently received approval to start running pilot programs for four-year degrees. The program will allow for community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees that are not offered by nearby public universities in an effort to open up more opportunities for students within the state.

With the program in effect, policymakers will monitor the initiative’s effects by measuring the money earned by those who have earned the new degrees, showing their value in terms of post-graduate salary. However, unaccounted for is the value of these degrees to the rest of the state. Are these degrees beneficial to California as a whole, outside of just increasing the dollar-per-household ratio?

The first concern that should be addressed is the potential for this initiative to increase competition among CCs, leading to newly competitive prices and undermining the purpose that many feel community colleges possess: affordable education.

The initiative accounts for this; however, only allowing the CC in question to offer programs for degrees in the event that they are not already offered by a nearby public institution, thus only coming into competition with private universities. While this may seem as though it would drive up the price of a college education against competing private universities, community colleges are likely to stay affordable by their very nature, attracting only those students who may not have the means to attend a public university, as those same students are likely unable to afford private higher education.

It would also be foolish for community colleges to increase the cost of their education in an effort to become more competitive with normal four-year universities. The main draw to these campuses will likely remain the affordable certification courses and technical degrees that are paid for per-unit, instead of the pricey per-quarter model that we experience at the UC.

While these programs will be paid for on a $10,000 annual basis, their primary competition seems to stem from private universities, which often cost more that twice what UC students have to pay.

Another possible concern is that these campuses are already impacted, and that this new program will only serve to further exacerbate the issues of overcrowding in CCs, leading to students not being able to register for the classes they need. The solution to this may seem simple because ultimately, it is. With the extra money coming in, it will become much easier for community colleges to expand, as they will now be able to afford more teachers, additional construction space and the ability to create more classes.

Community colleges are situated in the perfect position to be able to expand, as their overhead costs clock in significantly lower than the UCs. As the UC is a research university where professors are expected to perform research as they teach, expansion necessarily comes with extensive peripheral costs. Especially in the sciences, growing the UC would necessitate the price tags that accompany research supplies, supplementary materials and the already-necessary funds to create additional workspace.

Unlike the UC, CCs are not beholden to such prices for their professors’ research, and can expand more reliably and at a cheaper cost. While the expansion may not come into effect for some time given the period between increased enrollment and the ability to use those funds, this program is likely to provide CC campuses the ability to accommodate their already impacted classes.

Not only would the congestion on community college campuses decrease, but this measure may even allow for the over-population in UC and CSU campuses to drop considerably. If the degrees offered are an alternative to the more expensive bachelor’s degrees that the UC and CSU offer, then this initiative may be an out for those students who want the same basic certificate, but don’t want the many dollars in loans that these schools ask of us.

Enrollment at UCR itself has shown no sign of slowing and has consistently increased, though it would likely be ameliorated if community colleges like the nearby RCC offered degrees that were not regularly available on our campus. With this done, students could instead only go to the school that offered their preferred degrees, while simultaneously allowing a slight decrease in the amount of debt students have to pay back after graduation.

On the whole, this plan can only benefit education in the state of California. Though the initial impact may prove tricky to cope with, considering the likely immediate rise in community college enrollment, this could also prove to increase the perceived values of CCs, offering them as creators of not only niche certifications and trainings, but of previously unavailable degrees as an affordable price.

Isn’t that something we all wished we could have: More education without more debt?

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