By Gary Walker

State officials granted initial approval on Tuesday for Santa Monica College and West Los Angeles College to develop bachelor’s degree programs and could begin to offer the degrees as early as this fall.

The two schools were chosen from 34 applicants from the state’s 112 community colleges. Under a pilot program approved by the Legislature last year, 15 colleges were given the opportunity to offer B.A.’s in academic fields not served by nearby state colleges.

Santa Monica College plans to offer a tech-industry focused B.A. in “interaction design,” and West L.A. College seeks to expand its two-year dental hygiene program into a four-year degree pathway.

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.

“We are thrilled to be chosen to be part of this game-changing pilot program. Santa Monica College has always prided itself on its long-range vision,” said SMC President Dr. Chui L. Tsang. “This comes at a time of great need — Los Angeles’s red hot tech industry is painfully short on this talent and we are poised to provide that, grow our economy, and at the same time equip our students with high demand skills. For many of them, this will be a ticket to a better life.”

West Los Angeles College President Dr. Nabil Abu-Ghazaleh noted that dental hygienists have trained at the community college for more than a decade and have a 100% record of passing the same state board examinations that are required of students in bachelor’s programs.

“As West Los Angeles College continues to expand access for our communities to education and economic opportunity, offering a bachelor’s in dental hygiene will give our graduates access to a top quality education at a most affordable cost. Receiving the bachelor’s degree from West will open the door for our graduates to private practice, leadership positions, and transfer into master’s programs.”

The 15 selected programs will be subject to a final review by the California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris and consultation with the California State University and University of California systems before final approval is considered in March.

In a statement, Harris said students and the colleges will not be the only beneficiaries of the new initiative.

“These colleges are embarking on a new mission for the California Community Colleges that will expand opportunities in public higher education. Students will have a range of programs from which to choose to earn high quality, affordable and in-demand degrees. California employers win too, as they will have improved access to highly qualified candidates in these fields.”