Politics & Government

Senate OKs nursing school bill

SACRAMENTO -- The state Senate on Friday approved a bill that would make it easier for community colleges to admit nursing students based on merit rather than randomly.

Assembly Bill 1559 originally sought to abolish lottery-based admissions.

But the bill's author, Assembly Member Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, watered down the legislation to appease opponents -- including unions. They had argued the original bill struck at the heart of the community college mission of taking all comers, regardless of background.

Fresno City College is among the colleges that favor a lottery-based approach.

The version of the bill passed by the Senate would give community college districts the option to use merit-based admissions.

The criteria could include grade-point average on prerequisite courses, relevant work experience, foreign language skills and life experiences.

The Assembly must hold a final vote on the bill before it is sent to Gov. Schwarzenegger's desk.

Berryhill pushed the legislation as a way to lower dropout rates by admitting more-qualified students.

Of the roughly 6,000 students who enrolled in a community college associate degree nursing program in 2002-03, only half graduated within two years, according to a recent report by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office.

About a quarter of the students graduated behind schedule, and a quarter never graduated.

Under current law, colleges such as Visalia-based College of the Sequoias use merit-based criteria to narrow the pool of applicants, though rules call for the college to use a lottery to fill the final slots.

AB 1559 would allow college districts to use a merit-based system exclusively, according to Berryhill's office.

The bill was one of many bills considered by the Legislature on Friday as lawmakers race to complete deliberations by the end of the session next week.