WHITTIER, Calif. – Rio Hondo College received unanimous approval today from the California Community Colleges Board of Governors to offer a four-year degree in automotive technology as part of a historic statewide pilot program.

The degree is authorized by Senate Bill 850 as a way to train a new generation of graduates for high-demand technical jobs that increasingly require bachelor degrees.

“This new four-year degree will expand upon Rio Hondo College’s thriving Automotive Technology program to prepare a new generation of students for jobs that will be the foundation of rewarding careers and meet a critical need of our economy,” said Superintendent/President Teresa Dreyfuss.

Rio Hondo College’s Bachelor of Science degree in Automotive Technology will offer concentrations in management and technical expertise as it prepares students for a variety of positions with automotive, sea and rail transit companies.

The College expects to begin offering lower-division courses this fall and upper-division courses in fall 2016, once the program is reviewed by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

Under SB 850, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in early October, community colleges chosen for the pilot effort must launch bachelor programs by 2017-18 and sunset them by July 2023. The legislature and governor may renew the program after review.

Rio Hondo College’s existing Automotive Technology program draws 300 students annually for certificate courses and two-year degrees. Enrollment has climbed about 20 percent over the last five years as new components – including one on alternative fuels – have been added.

“The new degree will take this extraordinarily popular program to a new level – one that will be highly valued by the region’s automotive companies,” said Mike Slavich, Rio Hondo College’s Dean of Career and Technical Education programs.

The degree will equip graduates for a variety of positions with auto manufacturers, car dealers or aftermarket companies that modify vehicles – companies that typically demand four-year college degrees when hiring, but which often have to train new employees because of the lack of comprehensive technical degree programs.

Positions include field service operations, fleet management, technical support activities, service/parts management, sales and marketing. Many of the jobs require a mesh of technical skills and understanding of customer service and needs.

Among the auto companies headquartered here are Kia, Hyundai and Honda, which partners with Rio Hondo’s two-year program. Toyota, Ford and Mazda also have strong programs in the region. The area is home to the Specialty Equipment Market Association, a trade association that includes manufacturers, distributors, retailers, auto restorers, street-rod builders, restylers, car clubs and race teams.

Students are expected to take 65 units in lower-division courses at the current fee of $46 a unit and about 60 units in upper-division courses at a cost of $84 a unit to qualify for graduation.
At those fees, a bachelor’s degree offered through the community college – including other fees and books – will cost about $10,000. That’s less than two years’ tuition at CSU and less than a year’s tuition at UC.

“With this new program, Rio Hondo offers yet another avenue to success for our students,” said Board of Trustees President Madeline Shapiro. “Our new degree is the perfect complement to the vast variety of innovative academic and career programs we offer.”

It is estimated California needs 1 million more tech-oriented graduates to remain competitive. The legislation specifies such fields as health, biotech and public safety.

Community colleges in 21 states already offer four-year degrees.