Friday, September 24, 2010

Michigan may let community colleges grant 4-year degrees

Lansing -- Students may soon be able to earn a bachelor's degree at some of Michigan's community colleges.

A bill passed Thursday by the state House of Representatives would allow community colleges to offer four-year degrees in nursing, culinary arts, maritime technology and concrete technology.

If the reform is passed by the Senate and signed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Michigan would join 17 other states that offer at least some four-year degrees at community colleges.

"This legislation is critical for Michigan's citizens and students, as well as the future of our state," Mike Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association, said in a written statement. "(This) is truly a step forward in the retooling of Michigan's work force and its continuing transition into a knowledge-based economy."

That's not how public universities see it. Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council of State Universities of Michigan, blasted the legislation as bad for the economy and students.

"There is no waiting line for these programs now," he said. "Community colleges do not have the base of professional educators needed to provide accredited bachelor's degrees." Hiring more faculty and support staff will increase the costs at community college, Boulus added.

But Luke Pickelman of the Michigan Community College Association said community colleges will add the four-year programs without adding staff.

"We won't be asking the state for more money," he said.

The bill has stirred tensions between community colleges and the state's public universities, where community college students often transfer to earn a bachelor's degree.

Community colleges have seen enrollments rise as the education needs of the work force increase, but they can't upgrade their offerings to the four-year programs that more fields require.

The bill received bipartisan support in the Democrat-led House and moves to the Republican-led Senate, where it may have a tougher challenge. Matt Marsden, spokesman for Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, said "it's not something that is on the majority leader's radar."

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