By Laura De la Garza Garcia and Madison Duong
A new law signed by Gov. Newsom could change the way students pursue one of the highest degrees in education. Assembly Bill 656, authored by Assemblymen and current Sacramento mayor candidate Kevin McCarty, allows California State University campuses to offer doctoral degrees in professional or applied programs, breaking free from the existing limitations of doctoral offerings, provided they do not duplicate degrees offered at University of California campuses.
According to McCarty, the mission of CSUs is to extend knowledge and opportunity to diverse communities throughout our state. Before his law took effect, CSUs were largely restricted to offering doctorates in education, audiology, physical therapy, occupational therapy, nursing practice and public health.
“AB 656 allows the CSUs to reasonably expand doctoral programs,” McCarty said in a statement. “Doing so will lead to more equitable access to practical doctoral degrees, greater diversity in academia, and the ability to meet California’s changing workforce demands.”
Interim Sacramento State Provost Carlos Nevarez noted that AB 656 also supports academic collaboration between local UCs and CSUs, and help students’ academic advancement.
“It would be a revolutionary change for our system and for Sacramento State,” Nevarez contented.
According to the Provost, Sacramento State has already proven successful at offering doctorate degrees.
“On average the California State University system awards more than 600 doctorate degrees per year,” Nevarez went on. “Here at Sacramento State, we offer four doctorate degrees.”
Currently, Sacramento State offers doctorate programs in audiology, physical therapy and education in leadership, which saw its first graduating class in 2010. Nevarez led the efforts to make education in leadership the first Doctorate program at the university.
According to Nevarez, Sacramento State also offers one joint doctorate degree with UC Santa Barbara in History and also has two pending proposals to offer Doctorate Programs in public health and a doctorate in nursing.
Sheeva Sabati, an assistant professor and graduate coordinator for the Ed.D program at Sacramento State, said this law will be a gamechanger. She feels proud to work in the CSU during these changing times and wants more applied doctoral programs to open up exciting possibilities for expanding leadership and practice in different fields. However, Sabati said when planning new doctoral degrees, faculty and administrators should also take into consideration social inequalities.
“How do we create programs where there’s a real clear intention and commitment to social justice, and I think that goes across every line of work,” she reflected.
According to Sabati, UC doctoral programs do not seem as accessible to first generation students, students of color and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
“If we’re interested in bringing folks into doctoral programs that may be first generation, that may be from historically and systematically marginalized communities or identities,” Sabati explained. “There is a need to build robust support systems.”
She also recognizes a few potential challenges this law could bring. Many people who pursue doctoral work are simultaneously working full time as professionals in their fields.
“I think the more that there can be systems built in to support people in these it would make these opportunities so much more exciting and really help expand equity and racial justice in respected fields,” Sabati said.
Rachael Dal Porto is a student at UC Davis getting her PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree at Sacramento State in Civil Engineering and Chemistry in 2020. Dal Porto thinks CSUs offering more degrees will make PhD’s more accessible for Californians.
“CSUs are incredible universities, and I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t have PhD programs available,” Dal Porto pointed out. “Especially if those programs will be different from UCs and expand the degree potentials at public schools in California.”
Dal Porto has noticed that many students live near CSU campuses and might benefit from a PhD program within close proximity.
M. A. Mort, a fifth year PhD Electrical Engineering student at UC Davis, said this law would help eliminate a lack of professional degrees in many parts of the state.
“This will give more opportunities for higher education at more schools that are located in populated areas that might not be near a UC,” Mort predicted.
Although Mort knows the law will benefit students, she said it could bring some challenges, such as the potential overlapping of program curriculum with already existing UC programs. Mort graduated from Sacramento State in 2017 with a degree in applied physics, where she recalls taking classes at a UC before she switched fields.
“I can confirm that UC faculty’s priority is research, while CSU faculty were very bright and cared about teaching the material well,” she said. “Not only do CSU faculty care about their students’ learning, they do research with them. Extrapolating from this, I can imagine a student pursuing a PhD at a CSU would be supported and learn valuable, applicable skills.”
According to Mort, if AB656 would have been in place while she was at Sacramento State, she might have explored the idea of staying and applying to the program.
“The field that I’m in is in a unique intersection of physics, electrical engineering, and materials science. UC Davis used to have a department of applied science that probably would have been a better fit for me, but it was discontinued in 2011,” Mort observed.