Rio Hondo College to offer four-year degree

Rio Hondo College is set to offer a Bachelor of Science degree in Automotive Technology.

In 2014 the California State Senate passed legislation creating the state-wide pilot program. The bill opened the door for community colleges — which currently only offer certifications and two-year degrees — to offer four-year degrees in programs that the state’s public four-year colleges and universities do not currently offer degrees in.

The bill leading to the creation of the program was authored by State Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego.

“Many of CSU and UC campuses are just maxed out,” Block said. “This just made sense. And the fact that it was a unanimous vote in the Legislature just shows the turnaround of my colleagues.”

34 California community colleges responded to a call from California Community College Chancellor Brice Harris to submit proposals for the establishment of the new four-year degree programs. Rio Hondo College was among the 15 California community colleges recommended by Harris out of the 34 colleges proposing to offer four-year degrees.

The Community College Board of Governors approved the chancellor’s recommendations with a 9-0 vote (and two abstentions). Harris stated that his recommendations were based on the geographic and demographic diversity of the colleges and a diversity of the subjects covered by the degrees, as well as the quality of the proposal.

A 2014 report published by the California Community College’s Baccalaureate Degree Study Group indicates that California has fallen behind other states in the percentage of residents holding bachelor’s degrees.

The report states that “The state ranked eighth in the nation in its share of 25 to 34-year-olds with bachelor degrees 1960 when the California Master Plan for Higher Education was implemented. Today it has slipped to 14th place.”

That same report goes on to show that existing projections show that demand for college-educated workers will so exceed supply by 2025 that California will have to increase the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded annually by 60,000 just to keep up. That represents a 40 percent over current levels.

The bill creating the state-wide pilot program had been thwarted in two previous attempts. “The first couple of times we proposed this, we were in the middle of huge budget deficits,” Block said. “There just wasn’t an appetite for starting a new program, no matter how good it might be.”

Block expressed excitement over the passing of the legislation, referring to it as a “game changer.”

With this landmark move, California joins 21 other states already offering four-year degrees through their community colleges. Many of those states have dropped “community” from the title and now just refer to the schools as “colleges”.

Rio Hondo already boasts of a highly successful two-year Automotive Technology program. Automotive giant Honda is already a partner, and Rio Hondo faculty and staff involved with Automotive Technology are clearly excited about the future of the program.

“We’ve really tapped an area of strong interest. Students are already asking us how soon we could offer the program,” said Mike Slavich, Rio Hondo College’s Dean of Career and Technical Education programs. “It could be even bigger than we think.”

“I really wanted (the four-year Automotive Technology) degree offered on this campus,” said Slavich. “I am a graduate of the automotive program; I know what it can do to change people’s lives and their careers.”

Rio Hondo College will be allowed to offer a four-year bachelor of science degree in automotive technology on two tracks: technical expertise and marketing/management. The community college has about 300 students in its existing automotive technology program. Slavich expects that number to grow.

Under the terms of the state-wide pilot program, Rio Hondo would need to begin the program no later than the 2017-2018 school year. The pilot program will end in 2023, unless extended or made permanent by the California State Legislature.