Access to bachelor’s degrees and specialized training is vital for those living on the central coast. In 2021, Glenn Morris (President and CEO of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce), published an article in the Santa Maria Times on the impact of access to local bachelor’s degree programs.
Morris wrote that “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 are several institutions who are working to meet the community needs that Glenn Morris eloquently pointed out. Colleges offering bachelor’s degrees or higher, with campus locations between the Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo metro areas include:
• UMass Global (Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctoral Degrees)
For prospective students, it’s important to understand that each institution and organization has its own unique specialty. For example, Laurus College is a great match for students who are working full-time and looking for a career-focused education. The bachelor’s degree programs at Laurus College pair online classes with in-person student support services, as well as flexible scheduling options, for the fields of Business, Digital Arts & Computer Animation, IT & Network Systems, and Web Design & Development. Laurus College also launched a new bachelor’s degree program, in Audio Production, in 2021.
Other schools also offer hybrid and online learning models to meet student needs. At UMass Global (formerly Brandman University), many courses are taught online with once a week on-campus sessions. In addition, UMass Global MyPath offers a competency-based, self-paced program, which is helpful for working adults. In this program, the focus is “competency-based education (CBE) degrees are designed to help you reduce time spent on concepts you have already mastered and focus on filling in the gaps.” MyPath includes specialized majors like Supply Chain Management, Data Science, and Marketing. In total, there are over thirty accredited bachelor’s programs for students to choose from at UMass Global.
Another college that offers a wide variety of specialized programs and degree offerings is the University of La Verne. For more than 45 years, the University of La Verne’s Vandenberg Campus has “served members of the military stationed at Vandenberg and the surrounding community by offering accelerated degree programs in a flexible, military-friendly learning environment.” Today, students on the Central Coast have a variety of options to choose from that include everything from accelerated courses to online and hybrid models. In total, the University of La Verne offers over fifty undergraduate majors, in addition to master’s and doctoral degree programs.
A.T. Still University’s College for Healthy Communities in Santa Maria opened in 2020. The newly accredited campus is the home of the Central Coast Physician Assistant Program (CPAP). ATSU programs offer students opportunities to gain “clinical experience to diagnose and treat a wide range of patients.” According to ATSU President, Dr. Craig Phelps, “Future programs on the Santa Maria, California, campus will be developed to meet healthcare and workforce needs of medically underserved communities.” ATSU’s Santa Maria Campus also features clinical simulation rooms and other resources to complement team-based learning approaches.
San Luis Obispo College of Law also embraces the flexibility of virtual learning by offering hybrid and remote classes that emphasize practical skills. While traditional law schools have residential programs, the San Luis Obispo College of Law was, “one of the first two California accredited law schools approved to offer a separate hybrid online JD program, not as an emergency reaction to the recent Coronavirus crisis, but more than three years ago as part of our planned program expansion.” As a result, this helps students who can’t afford to move or don’t have time to travel to regular classes. San Luis Obispo College of Law is innovating the way we think of law school and helping prepare legal professionals in the community, along the way.
Founded in 1901, California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), in San Luis Obispo, has a long history of educational excellence. Cal Poly offers “more than 150 undergraduate majors and minors as well as over 50 graduate programs,” many of which are career-focused. Undergraduate majors like Wine and Viticulture, Agricultural Business, Dairy Science, Marine Science, and Recreation, Parks, & Tourism, help prepare students for local careers. Cal Poly’s emphasis on experiential learning and entrepreneurism is also fueling our region’s workforce development.
As California’s Central Coast grows, so too does its need for employees with bachelor’s degrees. According to Glenn Morris, “local business owners agree that bachelor’s degrees need to be more accessible locally.” Thankfully, there is a thriving network of educational opportunities that support higher education at all levels on the Central Coast! These institutions and organizations are working to serve the needs of the community and prepare students for jobs in the region.
As the Director of Workforce & Economic Development at Laurus College, I believe it’s essential to include local employers in this process as advisors. Glenn Morris eloquently articulated the sentiments of business owners in seeing the need for a more educated workforce and for employees with bachelor’s degrees. It’s by understanding the changing needs of the region, that local colleges can best prepare students for the jobs that are available today—and into the future!
Dr. Karen Edwards is the Director of Workforce and Economic Development at Laurus College. This column was reproduced in partnership with the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce.