Measure advances for 4-year degree at community colleges

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Capital News Service
LANSING – Some community colleges may soon be free to offer bachelor’s degrees, eliminating the need for students to transfer to a four-year university.
The House is considering legislation allowing community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in four subjects, concrete technology, culinary arts, maritime studies and nursing.
Three of those programs aren’t popular at four-year universities, so community colleges could fill the void, advocates of the change say. The nursing program is being considered because of the high demand for nurses in the state.
“College education is very expensive, and community colleges can offer bachleor’s degrees at significantly lower cost,” said Rep. Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch.
“What I’m trying to do is give local people the flexibility of holding their job and not having to move to another city in order to obtain a four-year degree,” he said.
But some experts caution that the change may hinder enrollment at public universities.
“Students are now looking for affordability and accessibility,” said Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan.
“Community colleges and universities are forming partnerships where you may start at a community college and then finish your degree at a four-year university,” he said.
While community colleges say they can offer those programs at a lower cost, Boulus said they will have to invest in infrastructure and faculty, increasing costs in the long run.
And he said funding bachelor’s degrees is the state’s responsibility, so giving community colleges, which also receive property tax revenue, would put their fundamental mission of providing education and enrichment opportunities locally at risk.
Boulus said the Presidents Council opposes the bill because it doesn’t address the lack of qualified faculty and clinical facilities.
“Faculty members teaching nursing need to be full-time and must have a doctorate degree,” he said. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, a doctorate in nursing is required to teach at a university.
Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association, said the bill responds to a need for access and affordability.
He said there is demand for bachleor’s degrees because of the economic times, and community colleges can help fill that demand.
He also said the legislation would give opportunities to students who may not be able to attend a four-year university because of high cost and distance.
“Benton Harbor, Ludington, Alpena and Muskegon are just some of the cities that will benefit from this new legislation because in those areas, four-year universities are scarce,” said Hansen.
The bill passed the House Education Committee.
© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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