Community colleges want to offer four-year nursing programs

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Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan community colleges want to offer bachelor’s degrees in nursing to battle a shortage of nurses surging across the state and fueled by the pandemic. 

Demand for intensive care and emergency nurses grew by 186% in the past year nationwide, according to a 2021 study by Incredible Health, a nationwide company that helps nurses find jobs.

The Henry Ford Hospital System in Detroit has already arranged a program to soon fly in 500 nurses from the Philippines to meet its needs, said Michael Hansen, the president of the Michigan Community College Association. More are coming from Canada.

“We’ve got students here in Michigan who are willing and able, if we could just let our colleges train them,” Hansen said.

Community colleges have been interested in offering four-year programs since Gov. Jennifer Granholm recommended they do so in the early 2000s, Hansen said. A provision in the Community College Act of 1966 prohibits community colleges from conferring bachelor degrees. It requires legislation for that to be allowed.

The law was amended so now they can offer bachelor degrees in four areas — maritime, culinary, energy production and concrete technology — to meet local demands, Hansen said. 

They have wanted to do more than nursing, but that’s being proposed now because of the acute shortage, Hansen said. Community colleges traditionally respond to local workforce needs.

Advocates say allowing community colleges to also offer four-year programs would make access easier for adult students, which would help with the nursing shortage.

Opponents say it’s unnecessary and say there is no unmet need. They worry there might be too many colleges to choose from as it is. 

Since COVID-19 has intensified the need for nurses, community colleges want to offer programs to help, Hansen said. 

Jackson College, Lake Michigan College, Schoolcraft College and Northwestern Michigan College are among the community colleges interested in offering nursing programs, Hansen said.

The two-year registered nurse programs and online courses community colleges offer now are insufficient for providing the hands-on experiences nurses need,  said Rep. John Roth, R- Traverse City, who is working on legislation to make that happen. 

“They offer a very good program, it’s just not enough for what hospitals are requiring now,” Roth said. 

An associate degree sufficed in the past, but the baseline hiring requirement in most hospitals is a bachelor of science degree in nursing, Roth said.

Many jobs now require schooling beyond an associate degree, a demand community colleges could help satisfy, Hansen said. 

But Daniel Hurley, the chief executive officer of the Michigan Association of State Universities, calls the proposal irrational. It does nothing to produce more nurses, he said. 

The few four-year degree programs community colleges offer now see little demand, Hurley said. 

In 2020, Michigan granted 58 bachelor’s degrees from community colleges; 44 of them were from Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, Hurley said. The demand for four-year programs at community colleges isn’t there. 

Plus, the high school graduation rate is expected to drop by 15% between 2019 and 2037, which means fewer prospective college students, Hurley said.

“We need more students right now, we don’t need more four-year institutions in the state,” Hurley said. 

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