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The strength of the FRC bachelor degree

In December 2014, the Feather River College Board of Trustees took a bold leadership step to approve the application for a community college bachelor’s degree.

This exciting program complemented the mission of FRC and built upon a successful existing equine associate degree. FRC was chosen as one of 12 initial programs in California for this pilot program. Now expanded to the maximum 15 colleges, FRC graduated the first Bachelor Degree in Equine and Ranch Management students in May 2018.

Recently, Governor Brown signed SB 1406 (Hill), which extended the pilot program timeline. FRC is proud of this decision as the degree serves the college, Plumas County and the workforce needs of Northern California.

How We Got Here

Community colleges are allowed to offer bachelor degrees in 19 states other than California. Several bills were proposed over the past decade to allow California community colleges to join these other states by offering limited bachelor degrees. Senator Marty Block was successful in creating a pilot bachelor degree program that did not duplicate any CSU degree and was vocational in nature. The total cost of the four-year degree was limited to approximately $10,000.

Through the recommendation of the FRC Academic Senate to the Board of Trustees, a proposal for a Bachelor Degree in Equine and Ranch Management was submitted to the California Community College Chancellor’s Office for the competitive application process whereby up to 15 colleges out of the 114 community colleges statewide would be allowed to offer one bachelor degree each. Criteria included geographical diversity, program diversity, and in the words of the then Chancellor, the programs had to be “bulletproof” and “we cannot fail as the entire state is watching these programs.”

FRC submitted a strong application, building upon the existing Equine Studies, but taking a slight departure in focusing on ranch management, business practices and environmental studies as part of the degree. The curriculum was developed in conjunction with a local advisory committee and input from Agriculture Departments at Cal Poly, Chico State, Fresno State and U.C. Davis. Local cattle ranches from Plumas County also contributed. FRC was awarded the degree as the review committee was impressed with the pipeline of available students as well as the job prospects for graduates.

Shasta College now offers a Bachelor Degree in Health Information Management. Modesto and the Bay Area are the next closest degrees, and the only other colleges in Northern California to be awarded the degree.

The First Few Years

FRC initially built the program upon a cohort model of 25 students in each class. Recruiting began with both freshman, who would be interested in the program, as well as transfer students from other community colleges who would enter the first ever junior-level classes at FRC in Fall 2016.

The academic training of FRC professors in the program is exemplary. When the Chancellor’s Office and the Accreditation Commission visited FRC during the approval process, they both commented on the strength of the upper-division teaching faculty, as they all possess master’s degrees in agriculture-related fields. In addition, general education faculty hold doctoral degrees in their respective academic fields.

The Curriculum

The goal of the legislature and the FRC program is to meet the workforce needs of California. The equine industry is large and growing in California. Coupled with a management focus and environmental emphasis, the FRC program perfectly fits the needs of the agriculture industry.

As part of the degree, students must complete an internship. In the past two years, students have interned in six different states and in wide-ranging businesses such as therapy horses, production cattle ranches, equine reproduction facilities, tourism and dude ranches, bee keeping businesses, U.S. Forest Service, and performance horse operations. Some students have been offered jobs from their internships upon graduation.

Also built into the program is the management of a working ranch. FRC has expanded to a small cattle herd where students are responsible for the caretaking and well-being of the herd. In addition, FRC bachelor’s degree students learn embryo reproduction implants as one breeding method in conjunction with artificial insemination techniques. FRC is on the leading edge of this scientific field.

The general education portion of the degree includes western history, technical writing, environmental impacts of agriculture, accounting, chemistry, soil science and basic animal husbandry. The bachelor’s degree is not just an extension of the equine associate degree where students learn to train working horses. The bachelor’s degree is preparing students to enter ranch management positions in a wide range of applications.

The First Graduates

Approximately half of the current students earned their lower-division requirements from FRC. Most of the transfer students into the junior year of the program came from another California community college with an associate degree related to agriculture. Two students entered from out-of-state with both of them claiming that the low cost and the ranch manager focus attracted them to the program.

The real test of the degree will be in the job placement and training from students. Industry feedback is essential for the continued success of the program as the legislative intent was to create vocational baccalaureate degrees to meet industry training needs.

FRC graduated 15 individuals in May 2018. These students have jobs in related fields or are continuing their studies in master’s degree programs. Graduates have found employment as horse therapy specialist, university livestock technician, horse trainer, owner and operator of horse boarding facility, cattle operations assistant, consultant, Forest Service range management, and bank agriculture lending officer.

The Future

The addition of the Bachelor Degree in Equine and Ranch Management at FRC was a good decision by the Board of Trustees and the Academic Senate. The program attracts a different population of students who do not normally consider FRC as an educational option. FRC receives financial incentives for the program and specific funding increased revenue. The bachelor’s program supports many Plumas County businesses and gives another sense of pride to FRC and the community. Even associate degree students from majors outside of agriculture are justifiably proud that their school was recognized as a leader in the State of California through granting a baccalaureate degree.

With the signing of SB 1406 by Governor Brown, FRC can continue to recruit and enroll students in the pilot bachelor degree program beyond the extended 2025 sunset date. FRC will be working with the Chancellor’s Office and Legislature in the next few years to remove the restrictions on the pilot program and sunset date. It is our hope that new legislation will be passed to allow other community colleges to offer vocational bachelor degrees in areas not covered by any CSU curriculum. As part of a statewide educational system, FRC believes that community college vocational bachelor degrees are a component of providing trained graduates to meet the workforce needs of all of California.

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