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MiraCosta strives for affordable education with latest degree programs

REGION — As the cost of higher education in the United States climbs beyond many people’s reach, MiraCosta College is taking measures to ensure that its programs remain affordable and accessible to local students.

Dr. Sunita (Sunny) Cooke, the superintendent and president of MiraCosta College, told the Encinitas City Council on June 13, “We want to make sure that everybody who has a dream for a higher education and a wonderful career has the ability to fulfill that dream.”

For the 2017-2018 academic year, through a program called the MiraCosta Promise, the college provided free tuition to about 500 full-time, first-year students who demonstrated financial need. Those students also received funding for textbooks and other supplies.

Program eligibility last year was limited to students who had just graduated from a high school located within the boundaries of the MiraCosta Community College District. Cooke explained that moving forward, she’s hoping to extend the program to a greater variety of students, including those who enroll later in life. The aim is also to “cover any unmet financial need” that students of any income level have, Cooke said, whether it’s transportation or textbooks or the entire educational program.

The MiraCosta Promise is part of the statewide California College Promise, a program established in 2017 when legislative proposal AB 19 was signed into law. Its funding allocation remains unclear, according to Cooke. The MiraCosta College Foundation is striving to raise enough money — in addition to public funds — to offer the Promise program for two tuition-free years.

MiraCosta recently launched a biomanufacturing undergraduate degree program, which is the first of its kind in the nation. The program prepares students for the production of biomaterials for use in medications and foods, for example, as well as training in FDA compliance and quality assurance.

The first biomanufacturing cohort will graduate next spring with a Bachelor of Science degree. Those students will have paid about $10,000 in tuition over four years, which is less than the cost of tuition for one year at a public university.

A recent partnership between MiraCosta College and Point Loma Nazarene University has resulted in the offering of four other tuition-reduced bachelor’s degrees in business administration, child development, computer information technology and nursing. Even though Point Loma Nazarene is a private university, MiraCosta negotiated an in-state public university tuition rate for its students, Cooke said.

By the terms of the agreement, professors from Point Loma Nazarene (and in some cases MiraCosta) teach the upper-division courses at MiraCosta’s campuses as well as online.

The first program implemented via the partnership was the bachelor’s in nursing in 2016. Cooke explained that local public universities could not supply enough transfer spots for students who had completed a two-year nursing program. That led to what she called a “bottleneck” that the partnership with Point Loma Nazarene has eased.

Daphney Wadley is an adjunct professor and child-development program director at Point Loma Nazarene. She taught the first two courses of the partnership program in child development in fall 2017 and has continued working there in both an instructional and administrative capacity.

Wadley said, “For students, a major benefit is being able to complete their bachelor’s degree in their own neighborhood school.” She noted that Point Loma Nazarene benefits by “extending our mission outside of the local campus and to students across the county.”

The first child-development cohort will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in December 2018. Wadley described the current students as “well-prepared and really motivated.” Most are students in their late 20s to mid-30s who have gone back to school to finish their degree. The program requires an internship as well as ongoing fieldwork and observation that give students hands-on experience and networking opportunities, Wadley said.

In addition to its two-year and four-year degree programs, MiraCosta offers students the chance to learn English as a second language, achieve a high-school diploma, receive career training in fields such as welding and drone technology, enroll for free in college classes while in high school through a dual-enrollment program, and just take a continuing education course for fun.

At its four campuses located in Encinitas, Carlsbad and Oceanside, MiraCosta served more than 34,000 students last year, Cooke said.