Santa Monica and West L.A. college plan bachelor’s programs

By Gary Walker

West Los Angeles College and Santa Monica College may each begin offering highly specialized bachelor’s degrees as early as next year, pending approval from the chancellor and board of governors of the state’s community colleges system.

The plans come in response to a new state law that aims to reduce the cost of earning a four-year degree in career-driven disciplines.

Santa Monica College is proposing a bachelor’s degree program in interaction design — “a merger of traditional design, behavioral science and computer programming,” SMC Dean of Instructional Services Jennifer Merlic said.

West Los Angeles College plans to offer a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene, already one of the college’s more sought-after programs.

The schools are among 36 community colleges chosen as finalists for a statewide pilot program that would allow 15 community college districts (some with multiple schools) to offer traditionally four-year degrees in academic programs that are not offered at local California State University and University of California campuses.

Lower-division coursework for the bachelor’s degrees would cost $46 per credit hour — the same as for other community college classes — and upper-division units would cost $84 per credit hour.

Resident tuition fees for fulltime students currently exceed $6,000 per year at state colleges and $13,000 per year at UC schools. The estimated price tag for a four-year degree from a community college would be about $10,000.

The new program, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in September, “is a game changer for California students,” reads a statement by California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris.

“The districts’ strong interest in building baccalaureate degree programs is heartening. They are pioneering a new mission for California Community Colleges and opening up pathways for Californians who may not have had a chance to earn a four-year degree,” he said.

Harris is expected to announce selected schools by Jan. 21. The programs would have until 2017 to launch but could start as early as next fall.

SMC officials believe the interaction design can become a gateway for local students to benefit from the explosive growth of the technology sector in Santa Monica, Venice and Playa Vista.

“This is an extension of our efforts to create pathways for our students to exciting careers that will pay them well and a beautiful partnership with the local tech industry,” Merlic said. “We draw students from a number of populations who may have different interests and skill sets, but we also have people who already work in [the technology sector] and may want to update their skills.”

West Los Angeles College officials are also optimistic.

“It’s very exciting,” added Carmen Dones, director of the college’s dental hygiene program. “This would be a dream come true for us and our students.”