OCEANSIDE — A group of local students will graduate in spring 2019 with bachelor’s degrees, but that isn’t what makes this class unique. It’s the degree they will receive and the institution they are earning it from that sets these students apart. The group of 23 are the first cohort of students in a pilot program in which they will earn bachelor’s degrees in biomanufacturing from MiraCosta College.
It’s the first program of its kind in the state or anywhere in the U.S. “It all started in the fall of 2014 when the governor approved Senate Bill 850,” Michael Fino, dean of Mathematics and Sciences at MiraCosta said. “We were one of 15 community colleges in the state chosen for a 10-year pilot program offering bachelor’s degree programs. There were two key requirements — it couldn’t duplicate anything at a CSU or UC school, and there had to be a need that the program addressed.”
Fino spearheaded efforts to bring biomanufacturing to MiraCosta. “We proposed a degree in biomanufacturing,” he said. “Most programs focus on the research side. We wanted to offer a degree in the production side as it didn’t exist anywhere else, and locally there is a need in the industry.”
In 2015 Fino said they found out MiraCosta was selected, but that was just the beginning. “We spent two years buying equipment, hiring faculty and developing curriculum,” he said. “We had to spend time preparing for it because it didn’t exist before.”
Courses cost $46 a unit for lower division classes and an additional $84 a unit for upper division classes. The four-year program is expected to cost a total of about $10,000, not including books, materials and fees for health services, parking and the student center.
Another plus is that the students are guaranteed their upper division courses, which isn’t always the case with bachelor’s degree programs. “Once a student is accepted into the program they are a cohort and their classes are guaranteed. So they graduate on time, and they aren’t saddled with debt,” Fino said.
When the first cohort of students graduates next year, the industry will be ready for them. “Graduates with a bachelor’s degree in biomanufacturing will help fulfill an unmet workforce need for the greater San Diego region,” explains Dr. David Broad, president of the MiraCosta College board of trustees and retired General Manager of Genetech’s large scale biomanufacturing facility in Oceanside.
“We have a strong connection to the industry,” Fino added. An industry advisory board has worked closely with MiraCosta throughout the creation of the biomanufacturing program. “The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Fino said. “Our program is structured a bit differently than a typical degree. It is a lab-based curriculum. And that’s where science lives — in the lab. It makes it very engaging and fun for the students. They learn by doing instead of just sitting in a classroom.”
So far, the program has attracted a diverse group of students. “We hope to attract nontraditional students,” Fino said. “We have a nearly equal number of male and female students and about 20 percent of them are veterans. Almost half of them are of an underrepresented ethnicity.”
The current cohort has a number of former students who had graduated from MiraCosta and were already working in the industry. “We make a commitment to offer upper division courses at times that allow students to keep their jobs while they get their degrees.”
MiraCosta is currently accepting applications for fall 2018 to begin the upper division coursework. Students that have completed all of the lower division prerequisite coursework are eligible to apply. “We can take up to 30 students,” Fino said.
For more information about the program and how to apply, visit miracosta.edu/biotech