Several are parents, one is a former Marine Corps infantryman, all are among the 22 students who will be recognized at a special May 22 ceremony for being the first to earn a bachelor’s degree through MiraCosta College’s groundbreaking baccalaureate program in biomanufacturing.
The May 22 event is scheduled for 5 p.m. in the MiraCosta College Theatre (Building 2000) on the Oceanside Campus in advance of the college’s May 24 commencement.
“It’s a really exciting time for all of us at MiraCosta College to see these students graduate,” said Barbara Juncosa, chair of the MiraCosta College Biotechnology Department.
MiraCosta was one of 15 community colleges that for the first time ever secured the green light to offer a bachelor’s degree from the California Community Colleges Board of Governor’s as part of the state’s Baccalaureate Degree Pilot Program. The program, developed in consultation with the California State University and University of California systems, provides students with an opportunity to earn a baccalaureate degree at an affordable cost in areas of regional workforce needs, while at the same time addressing a shortage of Californians with a four-year degree. Students earning a bachelor’s degree in biomanufacturing at MiraCosta College are spending just $10,00 total on tuition.
As part of the pilot program, select community colleges can offer just one baccalaureate program, and it cannot duplicate existing options at the state’s public universities. Degrees range from mortuary science at Cypress College in Orange County to airframe manufacturing technology at Antelope Valley College in Lancaster.
MiraCosta College launched its biomanufacturing degree in 2017 with an initial cohort of 23 juniors. A second cohort of 23 students will be graduating in spring 2020. The Class of 2021 has enough room for 30 students.
“It’s a very unique degree to have,” said Marine Corps veteran Andrew Relopez, 32. “It is something that is very specific to the biotech hub we have here in North County. All the coursework was developed in consultation with the industry, which identified special skills that were needed. It’s not theoretical. This degree prepares you for life-saving research that is going on just down the street in our own community.”
Graduates range in age from their early 20s to their mid 50s. Job titles in the biomanufacturing industry include biomanufacturing associate, quality assurance technician and specialist, laboratory technician, and bioprocess technician. The industry’s median salary in the region exceeds $63,000 annually.
“For those who were already working in the industry, you really need a bachelor’s degree to move up, otherwise you kind of hit a ceiling,” said Juncosa, who noted that 16 of the 22 students were employed in the biotechnology sector when they enrolled in the baccalaureate program. “For those who were not working in the industry, this is a program that is well aligned with industry needs and provides them with greater career opportunities.”
The biomanufacturing degree program is further evidence of the profound impact MiraCosta College is having on transforming lives, and it is among the reasons why the State Assembly recently designated April as California Community College Month. An Assembly resolution notes that California’s 115 community colleges are leaders in higher education and workforce training with more than 2.1 million students in all.
MiraCosta College is responsible for pumping more than $653 million into the local economy each year, according to an independent analysis.