The availability of accessible and affordable bachelor’s degrees is of critical importance for communities like ours on the Central Coast. While it’s true that our region is blessed with several world-class universities, the reality is that those campuses are full … and the likelihood that they will have the ability to admit significantly more of our youth – or our working adults – is low.

Access to a good job and career is a goal we all share and need to make more attainable for our families and neighbors. This is especially true for those in our community who continue to struggle with access issues. Many first-time college-going students need to work while going to school to support themselves and their families. Working adults looking to upskill for job advancement can’t relocate to attend school away from home.

The good news is that there is another path to help many more in our communities access a four-year degree … and that involves our local community colleges.

AB 927, currently under consideration in the state legislature would allow community colleges to develop workforce-related bachelor’s degrees. A pilot program authorized in 2014 has proven to be very successful serving diverse populations, an older population and, at times, a population that otherwise would not have access to a baccalaureate degree program.

A statewide survey of the graduates of these programs in California found that 75 percent of graduates were first-generation college students, received FAFSA, struggled financially, experienced homelessness or housing insecurity, indicated a disability, or served in the military.

Over 80 percent of graduates were employed within three months of completing their degree, with over 90 percent employed in the same field of study, and in the state of California. The median income for this group was $65,000, with a median income gain of $16,500. Over 80 percent of graduates report that the bachelor’s degree prepared them well for their employment, with 87 percent stating that the value of the applied bachelor’s program was worth the cost of tuition. We have no doubt we would see similar results in our region with the introduction of accessible bachelor’s degrees at our local community college.

Local business owners agree that bachelor’s degrees need to be more accessible locally. Sandra Dickerson, CEO of Your People Professionals said “Access to 4-year degrees has been identified for years as necessary for local businesses to hire employees with the education and skills needed for their companies to expand in this area.” She added that, “If AHC has the ability to provide this higher education, our businesses will be able to grow here and our employees will be able to obtain higher paying positions.”

“It can be challenging to recruit the highly skilled individuals our business needs from outside our region,” shared Domenick Barry, CEO of Quintron Systems. “Allowing local community colleges like Allan Hancock College and Questa College to offer targeted four-year degrees would allow local residents to get the education and skills needed to compete for jobs at companies like ours.”

For many careers, a bachelor’s degree is a requirement. The ability for Allan Hancock College and Cuesta College to offer targeted bachelors-level degrees is essential for our community, our economy, and our future.

Glenn Morris is the President and CEO of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce.