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San Mateo Community College District pushes for selection in program offering four-year degrees

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San Mateo Community College District Chancellor Ron Galatolo believes the district is a competitive candidate for the statewide program allowing community colleges to offer bachelor's degrees.

San Mateo Community College District officials are hopeful that one of their colleges will be selected for a new statewide pilot program to begin offering a four-year baccalaureate degree in a specific area of study.

Senate Bill 850, which received Gov. Jerry Brown's approval in late September, establishes a pilot program that will allow 15 community colleges throughout the state to each offer four-year degrees, in one particular subject area, in addition to the standard two-year degrees.

The program gained support partially in response to how an increasing number of professional fields now require four-year degrees instead of two-year degrees. Additionally, the state Legislature has set a goal of having 1 million more baccalaureate-degree holders in the California workforce by 2025 in order to stay competitive economically.

San Mateo Community College District Chancellor Ron Galatolo said he has been trying since 2001 to be able to offer more baccalaureate degrees at the county's community colleges and he is thrilled that his district may now have this opportunity.

“We're hoping that we'll be one of the 15 colleges to offer a degree,” Galatolo said. “There's no four-year public presence in San Mateo County. Our students have to go north to San Francisco or south to San Jose, or across the pond to the East Bay to earn four-year degrees. And our students have said they'd rather continue their educations here.”

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Respiratory therapy and radiation technology are two of the fields moving toward requiring practitioners to hold at least a bachelor's degree. Galatolo suggested those are two of the district's programs — perhaps either radiation technology at Cañada College or respiratory therapy at Skyline College — that could participate in the pilot program in the county.

The California Community Colleges Board of Governors will select the 15 schools that will participate in the program after the bill takes effect in January. State Community College Vice Chancellor for Communications Paul Feist said he expects the program to receive a lot of applications from many community colleges eager to participate.

“We expect a lot of interest in proposals for pilot programs, at least twice or three times as many proposals that we have slots for. We think there will be a lot of interest,” Feist said.

The state Chancellor's Office is currently working on developing an application process for colleges and determining what factors it will evaluate when whittling down the applicants.

“The whole idea is to offer these applied bachelor's degrees in fields that are increasingly requiring the baccalaureate degree — culinary arts, dental hygiene — and looking at what is the labor market demand in a certain area, how does that fit in to the needs of the regional economy,” Feist said.

One of the bill's requirements is that colleges work with the University of California and California State University systems to ensure that the degrees offered at community colleges don't directly compete with degree programs at four-year universities.

Galatolo believes San Mateo Community College District is a competitive candidate for the program.

“We have two programs that make a lot of sense,” Galatolo said. “And there is no CSU in the state that offers four-year respiratory therapy degrees. So students would have to go to a for-profit for their four-year degree — that would be their only option. We think we would fill that void.”

A successful pilot program could also help pave the way for opening up more four-year degree programs in years to come, the chancellor said.

“We have many more we'd want to do. We'd probably consider nursing, radiation technology, dental hygiene, early childhood education — things there is high demand for in this area,” he said.

The bill stipulates that the 15 community colleges launch the expanded programs by the 2017-18 school year to allow students participating in the four-year degree programs to graduate by the 2022-23 academic year.

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