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Community Colleges Consider Offering Bachelor'S Degrees

Compiled By Yaffa Klugerman
December 28, 2009

Legislators in California and Michigan are thinking of granting community colleges the authority to offer four-year degrees.

In California, the initiative is largely being considered as a result of massive budget cuts to state universities which have forced institutions to turn away thousands of applicants. The Contra Costa Times reports that the idea was introduced by Assemblyman Marty Block at a December 7 hearing about the future of California's Master Plan for Higher Education.

"We have a lot of well-respected community colleges down in San Diego," Block was quoted as saying in the Contra Costa Times, "and they think they could do a fine job offering those next two years to students, at least in certain disciplines." Block is considering introducing a related bill next year.

If California decides to allow community colleges to grant four-year degrees, it would be the 18th state to do so.

"These movements often start when students cannot access the four-year institutions," explained Jowel Laguerre, president of Solano Community College, who was also quoted in the Contra Costa Times. "It's getting more and more difficult for students to access the CSU and UC system."

Meanwhile, the Detroit Free Press reports that under a proposed change to Michigan's Community College Act, students could obtain four-year degrees in nursing, culinary arts, cement technology and maritime technology at community colleges. Rep. John Walsh, who is sponsoring one of the bills to enact the change, explained that the new legislation is intentionally limited to make it more acceptable to four-year institutions.

"We're not trying to create any direct, one-on-one competition with the four-year universities," he noted in the Detroit Free Press.

But opponents in Michigan have argued that a change would be costly because two-year institutions would need to hire additional faculty and receive accreditation. Moreover, transfer programs are already readily available, allowing students to easily move from community colleges to four-year institutions. And ultimately, opponents say, allowing two-year colleges to grant bachelor's degrees would blur the line between community colleges and four-year institutions.

The claim is not altogether unfounded. Indeed, the Orlando Sentinel reports that in Florida, where many community colleges now grant four-year degrees, about half of the state's two-year institutions have changed their names. Central Florida Community College, for example, is seeing state approval to change its name to the College of Central Florida. Similarly, Seminole Community College changed its name to Seminole State College of Florida several months ago.

The reason, explain community college officials, is largely because of image: Obtaining a bachelor's degree from a community college is viewed as less prestigious than from a "state college" or just plain "college."

Nevertheless, officials note that the goals of community colleges remain the same. "While our name may be changing, the focus of the college will not," said Charles R. Dassance, president of Central Florida Community College, in a statement quoted in the Sentinel. "The college will continue to provide access to higher education opportunities and remain a community focused college."

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