SAN DIEGO - A 4-year degree at a fraction of the cost of a private school is being made possible by a new program at community colleges.
San Diego Mesa College student Shelia Pele was feeling confident about her upcoming exam.
"If you study for it, and you're prepared, you're ready to go," said Pele.
The second-year student said it's still hard to believe she's back in school after 25 years. Just a few years ago, she was working full-time as a pharmacy technician.
Pele saw news coverage of an upcoming pilot program that offered a 4-year degree in health information management at San Diego Mesa College, one of 15 schools around the state offering degrees.
For Pele, the decision to apply for the degree meant a chance to chase a dream.
"I knew a typical 4-year university was beyond my reach. This is substantial savings; made it very reachable to me," said Pele.
So how much money is Pele saving? If you go to a private college offering the same degree, it'll run about $120,000 in tuition.
At San Diego Mesa College, the tab will be about $10,500.
"It's a complex field. To stay competitive, you need that extra level of training," said Pele.
Pele isn't the only thinking along those lines. In all, more than 80 students are on track at the school for 4-year degrees.
At a state Senate committee hearing Tuesday in downtown San Diego, there were hours of testimony on whether the community college program should expand, from the number of schools, students, to degrees.
Pele is set to graduate in 2019, and she said, "I'm probably going to be crying tears of joy. I will really be happy to finish what I started and to be able to move forward into the next phase of my life."
Critics have raised questions about quality of education and whether programs would compete against state universities. That's led to offerings like health information management degrees, which are not available at universities.
Legislators could propose an expansion in the program in 2017.