In 2015, Bakersfield College piloted a new program that afforded its students a rare opportunity: to graduate from community college with a full bachelor’s degree in industrial automation. This year the college is bringing that degree to high school students through its Early College program.
McFarland High School freshmen who begin taking classes in the industrial automation pathway will be able to graduate with a full bachelor’s degree in five years — that’s just one year after they graduate from high school.
BC’s Early College program is deeply integrated into the fabric of McFarland High School, according to Kylie Campbell, director of the program.
Students can take dual enrollment classes during the day that will earn them high school and college credit that will put them on several different pathways, including earning their associate’s degree to transfer to a four-year university.
“They were ready for the next big thing,” Campbell said.
Industrial automation is heralded as the next big thing. It’s a field focused on the study of technologies used to automate industrial processes. Local industries, such as agriculture, energy, health care and distribution centers, are increasingly turning to automation to stay competitive,
“They will have no trouble finding a job,” Campbell said. “There are so many jobs available.”
The original push for the industrial automation program came from local industry leaders who found there were few qualified candidates for jobs.
Campbell found that families in McFarland understood the need for these jobs. They work in agriculture, and they see that the future is in automating the picking, cleaning and packaging process. This program puts the next generation on track for these jobs.
“We are setting them up for meaningful employment within their community,” she said. “They would be able to stay in McFarland.”
Students who begin the industrial automation degree their freshman year will finish their associate degree as juniors and then begin their baccalaureate degree as seniors.
To stay on that track, students will be bused to Bakersfield College during the summer session for hands-on laboratory classes.
Rural communities in Kern County such as McFarland tend to have low educational attainment. Campbell said that even those students who don’t finish the full five years at Bakersfield College will come away with valuable certificates in industrial automation that will make them valuable hires.
It was important that this program grant students the ability to make a “smooth transition” to college or career, Campbell said.
Everyone at McFarland High jumps on an Early College pathway when they begin school. However, ninth grade students have until spring semester to pick whether they want to elect to start the industrial automation pathway. But so far 25 of the 232 students have indicated their interest, Campbell said.
Now that the program is in the works, BC is also drumming up interest among eighth graders in McFarland Unified.
You can reach Emma Gallegos at 661-395-7394.