New Legislation Expands Community College Baccalaureate Authorization in California

Blog Post
Oct. 18, 2021

Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 927 into law on October 6, a day long awaited among proponents of community college baccalaureate (CCB) programs in California and beyond. This bill, introduced by Jose Medina (D-Riverside), has replaced the pilot status of existing CCB programs in the state with full and legitimate status. This, at last, opens up the opportunity to bring CCB programs to any community college in California. These changes have been a long time coming and have huge implications for baccalaureate degree access in the Golden State, especially for the more than 2 million students now enrolled in California community colleges.

The original California CCB bill, signed into law in 2014, authorized a pilot program designed to launch programs lasting six years. Any of California’s 116 community colleges were allowed to propose a baccalaureate program but there were strict limitations. Under this law, no more than 15 community colleges could operate pilot baccalaureate programs, with only one program per participating institution, regardless of student or labor market demand. And pilot programs can be tricky. Students may be reluctant to enroll in a program that will cease to exist within a few years after they graduate. Likewise, employers might raise an eyebrow in the future if a would-be hire has a bachelor’s degree from a program that got shut down.

Most programs launched around 2015, in majors ranging from dental hygiene to equine and ranch management. Thankfully, as programs continued to welcome new students, the pilots were extended from a required sunset in 2023 until 2026, but there was no opportunity to operate under regular program status, regardless of outcomes.

Meanwhile, since California’s pilot program legislation passed in 2014, an additional eight states have authorized community colleges to confer some bachelor’s degrees, with four more states expanding either the number of community colleges that can operate bachelor’s degree programs or the types of programs they can have. Now 24 states authorize at least one CCB program. California’s movement on opening up the possibility of CCB programs across the state is in keeping with new legislation in many other states, such as Texas and Ohio.

This newly-signed legislation opens the door for any California community college to propose a baccalaureate program, but sets limits on the number of programs that can be approved each year in the state. Any college can propose a program that meets local labor market needs, does not duplicate local university offerings, and has demonstrated student interest. However, the state will review program proposals twice per year, and will approve a maximum of 15 programs at each review. So, no more than 30 new programs will be launched in California in any given year. It’ll take time for CCB programs to scale up in California to fill gaps in program offerings, but having the door open to do so is a massive, welcome change.

Our work to better understand the landscape of community college baccalaureate programs continues. Stay tuned this fall for a new national data set outlining the institutions and programs bringing baccalaureate opportunities to students across the country.

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Higher Education Access and Affordability