16 September 2010

Bill Advances on 4-Year Community College Degrees

The Detroit Free Press

LANSING – Community colleges could offer four-year degrees in nursing, under legislation passed by the House and now headed to the Senate.

Four-year degrees could also be obtained at community colleges in culinary arts, and maritime and cement technology.

The proposed expansion has sparked an intense turf war between community colleges that say it would make four-year degrees more accessible, especially to older students, and four-year universities that view it as an expensive encroachment on their academic realm.

About 10 community colleges would probably take advantage of the expansion to four-year degrees, said Mike Hansen, president of the Michigan Association of Community Colleges.

“This bill is about access and affordability,” Hansen said.

He noted a study led by Lt. Gov. John Cherry that called for four-year degree programs at community colleges to address shortages in some professions, such as maritime training and nursing degrees. He said the nursing and maritime professions now require four-year degrees.

A two-year maritime degree now is offered only at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City. A two-year degree in cement technology is offered through Alpena Community College.

But the state’s 15 public universities oppose the measure, saying it will water down academic standards especially for nursing programs. Many community colleges offer two-year nursing programs, but the universities argue that four-year programs would drive up the cost and result in inferior training.

“There will be a lot of duplication than we should have,” said Mike Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council State Universities of Michigan, which represents the state’s 15 four-year public universities.

“We’re meeting all unmet needs,” he said.

Boulus said the expansion could jeopardize collaboration between the Michigan universities and community colleges. He said nearly 15,000 university students are enrolled in 300 four-year programs through local community colleges.

Boulus said the universities will work to defeat the two bills in the Senate.

Said Hansen: "We think we have the votes in the Senate to get this done. We hope."

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