The state recently passed its budget for the coming year.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean they’re done … in fact, the legislature is still working on hundreds of bills, some of which would be helpful to our business climate, but many of which would not.   So, we’ll keep watching, commenting, educating, and updating our members so you’re aware of what is coming your way.

Of local interest, the Chamber is working to support SB 769, which would expand the ability of community colleges like Allan Hancock College to immediately increase student access across the state to four-year degrees.

Our community is blessed to have a strong local community college, with an enrollment of approximately 13,000 students.   At the same time, we have a unique problem.  AHC is one of five colleges in the state located more than 100 miles from a Cal State University.  While Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is approximately 45 minutes away, it does not participate in the Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT) program. The closest CSU that does is Channel Islands – 111 miles from Santa Maria.

In reality, for many, Allan Hancock is the only accessible public higher education institution in our area. Unfortunately, many of our students stop pursuing their education after Hancock simply because there is nowhere for them to go.

SB 769 would change that. By allowing AHC the opportunity to offer appropriate four-year degrees, we can help students realize their academic goals and while also addressing local work force needs.  SB 769 would allow us to thoroughly serve students who are overwhelming first generation college, low income and Latino -and those who would prefer to stay local.

Over the next decade, California will fall one million baccalaureate degrees short of what is needed to meet employer demand. The bachelor degrees community colleges could provide under this bill provide an opportunity to address this shortfall in an expedient and cost effective manner. The degree programs would build on existing associate degree programs already in place, utilizing the skill sets of existing faculty. And as tuition costs at our CSU’s and UC’s continue to be out of reach for many Californians, the new baccalaureates would offer a low-cost alternative.

Many of our local businesses, particularly those which offer higher paying, family supporting, jobs report difficulty in recruiting for key positions … not for a lack of local applicants, but because those in our workforce shed do not have the opportunity to obtain a four-year degree.

While we will continue to advocate for any solution that bring additional higher education opportunities to the Santa Maria Valley, we believe that this particular approach would be a great place to start!