By Shane Cutchall
It was a cloudy, November afternoon in Communications class on the Valencia campus in Hasley Hall, and a group of three classmates in the back of the room were talking about a rumor that feels at least a decade old.
“Did you hear that COC is going to become a four-year university and start offering bachelor’s degrees?”
The other two students were excited to hear this news, with one of them adding that, “COC is going to be so much better now.”
Why has this rumor been going around for what seems like years? And what makes becoming a four-year university so special?
For what seems like a while now, there has been talk about whether or not COC will “upgrade” to becoming a university. The idea seems easy enough to understand. COC is a two-year community college that offers associate’s degrees, and by becoming a university, they could offer a higher level of education.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not that simple (and COC has already been offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees through their University Center since 2002). COC becoming a four-year university does not equal betterment for the student population or the members of the community. In fact, College of the Canyons would be worse off as a four-year university and lose an identity the college has worked so hard to achieve.
For SCV residents, COC is closer and more affordable than any CSU campus and Chancellor Dianne Van Hook is nowhere near finished improving the opportunities offered through this college.
“California community colleges know their communities intimately as well,” Van Hook wrote for The Signal in 2017. “They know what’s needed, and they can deliver a high-quality and affordable education like no other. It’s clear that California’s higher education system is not meeting demand; much of this is due to artificial restrictions that prevent community colleges from doing all that they are capable of doing.”
Chancellor Van Hook recognizes that community colleges meet a specific need in the community. That need is quickly and constantly changing as California State Universities are posing more and more problems with commuting becoming increasingly difficult, fees becoming overwhelmingly burdensome and various education fields being severely impacted.
All of these problems have been on the radar of Van Hook, who has been working for the last 16 years to bring higher education opportunities to the Santa Clarita Valley. She has indeed heard the cries of so many students and members of the community wondering when COC will “finally” start offering bachelor’s degrees or become a four-year university.
“We created the University Center because it removed significant barriers to higher education,” she wrote. “It made earning an advanced degree far more convenient and accessible. Local residents didn’t have many options before the University Center opened in 2002. Since then, 2,804 people have graduated with bachelor’s or master’s degrees.”
Legislation was passed in 2014 that allowed 15 California community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees as part of a pilot program created by Senate Bill 850. COC applied for this program but was not selected to be one of those 15 schools.
“Current estimates put the cost of a four-year degree at a California community college at $10,000,” she wrote. “That’s not the cost per semester or per year, but the total cost for all four years.”
A four-year bachelor’s degree from CSUN costs a student $22,968 when living on campus, and up to $27,064 off campus, according to the 2018-19 Standard Student Expense Budget released by the CSU system.
And should a student attend a private, four-year university to obtain a bachelor’s degree, that student would have paid an average of $32,157 for the 2017-2018 academic year, according to a report published by CollegeCalc.com.
Yes, you read that right.
A single year costs about $32,000 at a private college in California, which projects to over $125,000 for that four-year education students so badly want to achieve their academic and career goals.
Van Hook wants to offer bachelor’s degrees through COC itself that cost over 50 percent less than the nearest Cal State University and one tenth what the average private college in California costs. This would be a huge “upgrade” for a community college.
Becoming a four-year university would undo the progress Van Hook has made in providing the residents of Santa Clarita Valley and beyond the opportunity to obtain a life-changing education in the form of a degree or technical certification for far less money than any CSU or private college can compete with.
So the next time someone asks, “When is COC finally going to be a ‘real’ college and become a four-year university?” You can tell them COC isn’t going to become a four-year university. Eric Harnish, COC’s Vice President of Public Information, said it himself in the easiest way possible: “No.”