Chancellor Brice Harris of the California Community Colleges, left, listens as Allan Hancock College Superindendent/President Kevin Walthers talks about the wine-making program during a campus tour Wednesday. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The leader of the California community colleges toured the Allan Hancock College campus Wednesday, touting efforts to ease students’ transfers to state universities and to better educate workers to fill jobs in their communities.

Brice Harris, chancellor of the California Community Colleges, visited the Santa Maria campus for a peek at its facilities before a lunch with representatives of Hancock, other community colleges and local officials.

Over the past two years, the community college system and California State University officials created 1,600 new transfer degrees for students moving on to CSU campuses, and each year has seen a boost in the number of students using the transfer program.

“We do believe, in the next few years, as students become more and more aware of this pathway, it will be the cheap way students move from California community colleges,” Harris said.

University of California leaders last week announced 10 new transfer pathways with 11 additional ones to follow for students moving on to UC campuses after completing their community college education.

Private universities also have expressed interest in accepting those degrees, Harris added.

“If you look back a decade ago at how difficult it was for our students to transfer from a community college to a public university in this state, it’s like night and day different today,” he said. “It’s much more simple. It has a lot more guarantee for students.

“The fly in the ointment, if you will, is that the budget thus far has not afforded the CSU and the UC with the money necessary to create the seats to take on the students, so we’re creating a bit a hollow promise if we don’t ultimately see more capability at those two university systems.”

Hancock Superintendent/President Kevin Walthers noted the struggle for local students is that they must travel at least 110 miles to find the nearest state four-year college, CSU Channel Islands, which is not impacted like many programs at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and UC Santa Barbara. 

The lack of access provides an opportunity for pricier private colleges to attract students, Walthers said. He also noted the value of the community college education — approximately $758 a year compared to $7,000 or higher for a private institution.

“We’re really trying to educate our community about that,” Walthers said.

Harris is marking his third year leading the state’s 112 community colleges, likely to be 113 if the state board next week OKs turning the Clovis center into a full-fledged community college.

The Hancock visit was organized by Foundation of California Community Colleges, and is one of six or seven conducted annually throughout the state.

“This generation stands to be the first in the history of this country, if we don’t turn this around, to be less educated than the generation before,” Harris said.

The important role of California’s community colleges is evident in the statistics such as the fact the state accounts for one out of every five students enrolled in community colleges in the nation, Harris said. 

Allan Hancock College Superindendent/President Kevin Walthers, front left, leads a tour of the Santa Maria campus for Chancellor Brice Harris of the California Community Colleges. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Last year, the community colleges board created a task force to explore career technology education, which can be expensive to tackle.

The task force is studying whether community colleges are training students to fill the high-value jobs that exist or are about to be created in California.

“We believe our colleges have a role to play in making sure we’re creating a workforce not only for the jobs that exist in California today, but for ones we want to attract from other parts of the country,” Harris said.

Recognizing that small businesses will provide the greatest opportunity for job growth, Harris said the task force also will review whether community colleges are giving students the entrepreneurial skills needed.

The panel also is expected to point out how community colleges can fund career technology programs without relying on volatile state funding.

The task force is expected to report its findings in September for the state board to act on the recommendations in November, Harris said.

During the tour, Harris met Robert Mabry, associate professor of machining and manufacturing technology, who excitedly shared about the machine lab housed in Hancock’s new Industrial Technology building.

There are more job openings in Santa Barbara County for trained machinists than he has students, Mabry said, noting the college’s collaboration with industry members seeking trained employees.

He also showed off license plate frames, key chains and award-winning wine bottle stoppers made by students.

“It is that level of excitement of the faculty that are interacting daily with our students that really drives this system to be what it is today,” Harris said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at