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The importance of expanding educational opportunities at California’s community colleges

For the betterment of California, the momentum gained through recent community college bachelor’s degrees must continue. Two years ago, Feather River College was granted authority to offer a single bachelor’s degree in addition to associate degrees and certificates. The Bachelor of Science in Equine and Ranch Management is one of 15 such community college bachelor’s degrees in California ranging from diverse programs in health information science, airframe manufacturing, dental hygiene, automotive repair and mortuary science. The purpose of these degrees is to prepare graduates with proper technical training to directly enter the workforce and meet employment demands. None of the approved degrees duplicates a CSU or UC degree. In addition, in-state fees are approximately $10,000 for the entire degree. Clearly, these bachelor’s degrees are both practical and affordable in advancing California’s labor force. Unfortunately, this is a pilot program and will sunset under the current legislative language.

FRC enrolled 16 students into upper division courses in the Fall 2016 semester and they are on track to graduate in May, 2018. Summer internships have become highly competitive as FRC built up the program with the addition of a working ranch and cattle herd on the newly acquired land adjacent to campus.

For the upcoming academic year, 29 students were admitted through the fall early application period:  17 of these applicants will begin at the junior-level and 12 will be freshman at FRC in August 2017. Spring applications have not closed as the goal of the program is to enroll 25 students into each junior-level cohort. In short, FRC is working hard to meet employment needs and train students to enter the Equine and Ranch Management field upon graduation.

Given this extraordinary start to the FRC program, and the outpouring of industry support, it is no surprise that the first cohort of students has produced incredible academic work and they are poised to enter the workforce as trained ranch managers. Other community colleges in the pilot program report similar results. Recently, FRC obtained approval from its accrediting commission, so the degree is now fully recognized by the Federal Government as well as the California Community College Chancellor’s Office.

Nevertheless, there is a cloud on the horizon of the Bachelor Degree Pilot Program. Due to legislative requirements, all community college bachelor’s degrees will sunset in less than a decade. This means that the immense work at each college, including state and federal degree approval, will only graduate a few cohorts before closing down each program. Graduates will cease and the promise of a technically-trained workforce in the field will not exist through any of the pilot programs under the existing mandates.

Fortunately, there is a bi-partisan bill currently moving through the California Legislature. Senate Bill 769, authored by Senator Jerry Hill, would recognize the community college bachelor’s degree in helping to meet the workforce demands and the need for skilled technical workers. SB 769 would both remove the sunset provision of the current program and expand the authority to allow a limited number of additional bachelor’s degrees to be offered where the CSU and UC cannot meet the workforce needs or do not offer similar programs. The bill will expand the number of approved community college bachelor’s degree programs as they partner with the CSU system to meet regional employment demands.

Locally, SB 769 will allow FRC to continue to offer the Bachelor Degree in Equine and Ranch Management, which will benefit the Plumas County economy, provide trained graduates for the Western region and offer a unique degree for students interested in this field. SB 769 will expand upon Feather River College’s tradition of strong transfer programs, associate degrees and certificate training programs, as it would authorize FRC to continue offering instruction above the associate degree level. Feather River College wishes to thank Senator Hill for his leadership and support of this important initiative of bringing accessible bachelor’s degrees to local community colleges.

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