SACRAMENTO -- A small number of California's two-year colleges will start offering four-year degrees if the governor signs a bill that cleared the state Legislature on Thursday.

As soon as next year, 15 community colleges could launch bachelor's degree programs -- one per school -- that are not readily available at nearby public universities.

The state chancellor's office has not announced which districts will participate.

Proponents of SB 850 -- introduced by state Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego -- argued that bachelor's degrees in technical fields are in great demand and noted that 21 other states allow their community colleges to offer such programs.

First-year student, Xin Xie listens to clinical instructor, Evelyn Joyce Bettencourt, right, in the dental hygiene program at Foothill College as she works
First-year student, Xin Xie listens to clinical instructor, Evelyn Joyce Bettencourt, right, in the dental hygiene program at Foothill College as she works on student partner, Ashley Mork, during class in Los Altos Hills, Calif. on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. Under a proposed state senate bill by Marty Block (D-San Diego), two-year colleges would be able to offer four-year degrees programs. But, only one program would be eligible per school. (Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group) ( Gary Reyes )

Previous legislative attempts to bring bachelor's degrees to California's community colleges have gone nowhere, partly because of budgetary constraints, but supporters said there was greater momentum this time.

Among those applauding Thursday's Senate vote was California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris.

"In today's economy, many businesses require their employees to possess a four-year degree or higher skill sets than are offered through associate degree programs, even in fields such as dental hygiene or automotive technology where a two-year degree would have been sufficient in the past," Harris said in a news release. "I applaud the Legislature for addressing California's urgent workforce needs."



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Jessica Guzman, right, takes notes in Saul Jones’ nursing skills lab class at Contra Costa College in San Pablo, Calif. on Monday, Feb. 3, 2014.
Jessica Guzman, right, takes notes in Saul Jones' nursing skills lab class at Contra Costa College in San Pablo, Calif. on Monday, Feb. 3, 2014. There is a movement to allow California community colleges to offer bachelor's degrees in certain programs, and the nursing program at Contra Costa College could be one such program. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group) ( Kristopher Skinner )