By Harold Pierce
Faculty leaders lambasted the board of trustees Monday when the group violated its own ethics policy and took the first step towards granting four-year degrees at Santa Ana College.
The board approved the first reading of a revised policy that would allow SAC to take part in SB 850, a pilot program that grants community colleges the ability to award baccalaureate degrees not offered at California State University or University of California campuses.
Under shared governance, and according to Board Policy 2510, “the Board or its designees will consult collegially with the Academic Senate, as duly constituted with respect to academic and professional matters.”
SAC Academic Senate President John Zarske says that faculty was not informed of the item before it was placed on the agenda.
“Sending an agenda a couple of days before is not collegial consultation. This gives the impression that this is moving forward and … when an accreditation agency looks at a policy that had zero consultation with the faculty, that’s a big red flag,” Zarske said.
A routine accreditation committee visited campus last week and is currently reviewing the college’s self-study.
“We just want to give students the option. It’s not going to help if we’re got an Academic Senate tying to deny our students,” Trustee John Hanna said.
The pilot program has created some dissention between a district board eager to snag one of 15 available spots and college faculty members who are wary of the complications of the program.
Those complications include creating an upper-division curriculum, hiring qualified professors and the fate of baccalaureate students if the program is cancelled, Santiago Canyon College Academic Senate President Corinna Evett said.
“I encourage you [Evett] to keep an open mind because there’s a lot of interest in that bill and there’s this concern that there’s a lot of work. Please change that attitude if you can,” Trustee Claudia Alvarez told faculty leaders at a May 27 board meeting.
“The faculty are not opposed to work,” Evett said. “But is this the best way for our faculty to spend their time, energy and work ethic, and then nothing comes of it afterward? Let some other college be the guinea pig.”
If SAC does enroll in the pilot program, it would likely offer a four-year technical degree in the welding or automotive field at the international student rate of $200 per unit.
Last year, Hanna championed the possibility of offering a four-year degree in nursing at SAC.
“For nurses to get an LVN [licensed vocational nurse degree] 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 in an interview last November.
The pilot program, however, only allows community colleges to award four-year degrees not offered at CSU and UC campuses.
Faculty leaders say that offering four-year degrees drastically changes the mission of the district. The stigma of earning a baccalaureate degree from a two-year college could also be a potential issue, Evett said.
“How much weight will it hold?” she added.
Trustee Larry Labrado echoed the faculty concern during a May 27 board meeting, noting that most bachelors’ programs have their own accreditation process.
“We have to be real careful that just because you have a B.A. doesn’t mean it will be recognized by anyone else,” Labrado said.
Additionally, the need for a four-year technical degree is not warranted since finding jobs in most technical fields typically requires certification, but not a degree, Zarske said.
Hanna, however, says that during a policy committee meeting last year, welding instructors spoke in favor of offering a four-year technical degree at SAC.
SB 850, coauthored by outgoing State Sen. Lou Correa, is a way to award more four-year degrees to make up for dwindling numbers at the UC and CSU level. It has gained support among the trustees, including board president Jose Solorio who is running for Correa’s seat this November.
Community colleges in other states, including Florida, have adopted similar programs to offer four-year technical degrees at two-year campuses.
“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.
Alvarez compared the possibility of passing over the program to the City of Santa Ana turning away a contract with Disneyland or the arena for the Ducks hockey team.
“They [council members] were very closed minded and negative … but what we’re looking for is the spirit of doing the work instead of sabotaging the idea before it even takes off,” Alvarez said.