Colleges Consider 4-Year Degrees

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Nursing students like Rebeca Zamora could receive four-year degrees at two-year institutions if the state chancellor’s office changes the mission of the community college to offer a bachelor’s degree in technical fields. / Daniel Lim / el Don
Nursing students like Rebeca Zamora could receive four-year degrees at two-year institutions if the state chancellor’s office changes the mission of the community college to offer a bachelor’s degree in technical fields. / Daniel Lim / el Don

By: C. Harold Pierce & Jocelyne Poblador

Gigi Arellano waited three years before being admitted into the nursing program to receive her licensed vocational nursing degree at Santa Ana College. When she finishes the two-year program, equivalent to an associate’s degree, she will still need a minimum of two years of education at a four-year college before receiving a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing.

“Jobs could be very limited without a BSN,” Arellano said, adding that magnet hospitals, recognized as the gold standard for nursing, primarily hire those with BSNs, a degree not attainable at SAC.

But that could change if California community colleges begin offering four-year degrees for selected courses like nursing, a move that the state chancellor’s office is considering.

The move would require community colleges to seek additional accreditation for applicable programs. If California adopts the change, it will join 21 others with similar policies.

College officials are wary of changing the mission of the two-year system, but see the value of offering bachelor’s degree in technical fields.

“It’s feasible, but it will take time. It’s a long ramp, and it’s cumbersome in California because of the size and complexity,” SAC President Erlinda Martinez said.

If the decision is made to offer the degrees at the community college level, California will be shifting away from the 1960 Master Plan.

Two-year colleges in other states with the same type of bachelor’s degrees have focused on offering technical degrees in specialized fields, like nursing and auto tech.

“It’s been a major success. There is a real need in our community to offer four-year degrees. People can stay close to home and get a good education at an affordable price,” said John Glisch, associate vice president of communications at Eastern Florida State College, a two-year institution that offers bachelor degrees in health care and business management.

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If legislation is approved, SAC would likely follow suit if administrators, faculty and students want the programs, said Rancho Santiago Community College District Trustee John Hanna.

There’s a need for impacted technical programs, Hanna said.

“For nurses to get an LVN they have to fight to get in the door at SAC. Then they have to get their RN [registered nurse degree], so why not just bang on one door?” Hanna said.

Offering four-year degrees would be costly, and SAC does not have enough money to serve the students attending classes already, Academic Senate President John Zarske said.

“There’s a plus side, but it comes with a cost. Education always comes with a cost,” Martinez said.

For nursing students, the change makes sense. They spend years on wait lists and invest as much or more time waiting as it takes to attain a four-year degree.

“Community colleges should offer the BSN because Cal States and specialty schools charge a lot of money, and we have the resources to do it here,” resident nursing student Luz Suazo said.

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