Napa Valley College
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Napa Valley College has joined a field of nearly three dozen two-year institutions in California hoping to offer four-year bachelor’s degree programs for the first time.

The school has applied to the state’s governing body for community colleges, seeking to offer a baccalaureate program in respiratory therapy starting in the fall of 2017. NVC is one of 34 higher education districts to submit applications from which the California Community Colleges Board of Directors will accept up to 15 at a meeting Jan. 20-21 in Sacramento.

The new degree programs are the result of Senate Bill 850, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September, which set up a pilot program scheduled to run through 2023. California will become the 22nd state to extend bachelor’s degrees to some two-year schools, a trend supporters say will extend job training to more students at a lower cost than at four-year colleges.

“We know it would be very beneficial to the community,” NVC spokeswoman Lissa Gibbs said in late December of the plan, which the school filed ahead of the state’s Dec. 19 deadline.

“Napa’s geography and transportation infrastructure mean that for some people in our population, this would be the only chance to get a purely local four-year degree,” she said.

NVC’s proposal, however, faces competition from within the Bay Area and even for its chosen subject. Skyline College in San Bruno and Ohlone College of Fremont also have filed plans to offer four-year programs in respiratory therapy or respiratory care, as has Modesto Junior College in the Central Valley.

“We don’t want to get people too excited about this; this is a very competitive process,” said Gibbs, who added only one school is likely to gain approval to offer four-year degrees in a given field.

The state’s pilot program requires community colleges hoping to offer baccalaureate degrees to choose subjects not already offered by its two four-year university systems. Applications also will be evaluated on how well a school’s proposed degree program fits the needs of its region’s labor market, according to Paul Feist, spokesman for the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.

As college officials and the academic senate weighed what bachelor’s degree program to pursue, they decided to seek an expansion of a two-year respiratory therapy program NVC has taught for more than 40 years – and that is scarce elsewhere in the state, school officials said.

“It was a matter of looking at what programs we have that could support expansion to four years, in areas with a need for a four-year degree – and respiratory therapy rose to the top,” said Terry Giugni, NVC’s vice president of instruction. “There is no public college in the state that offers it. Only one private school does, Loma Linda in Southern California. Those seeking bachelor’s degrees must go out of state.”

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A key to NVC’s pitch for a four-year degree track is its record of sharing its coursework with other schools, according to Kate Benscoter, who directs the college’s respiratory therapy program.

The college already teleconferences lectures to students at Santa Rosa Junior College, she said, and is equipped to extend that system to other Bay Area schools if its bachelor’s degree program gets the go-ahead – and could even use teleconferencing to link Napa students to another Bay Area school if that site is chosen instead.

“We do plan to collaborate with whoever gets the (respiratory studies) program,” said Benscoter. “The strongest factor for us is our history of collaboration. If we are only school teaching the subject for this pilot project, we will need that collaboration.”

Students in the experimental four-year programs will pay a surcharge of $84 per on top of the $46-per-unit tuition standard for California’s two-year schools. That would allow students to complete a bachelor’s degree for about $10,000, well below the average four-year tuition of $21,888 in the California State University system or $53,200 within the University of California network.

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Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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