Community Colleges Push To Grant Four-Year Degrees

By Staff
June 16, 2009

In an effort to increase access to affordable higher education, community colleges in several states are pressing to offer four-year degrees.

The Detroit News reports that state lawmakers will soon consider legislation that will allow Michigan's 28 community colleges to award bachelor's degrees in nursing, culinary arts and concrete technology. But the proposal is meeting with strong resistance from public universities.

"They are trying to be all things to all people, and they need to focus on their mission," said Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan. "We will actively oppose it."

But supporters of the legislation argue that allowing community colleges to offer four-year degrees would help the state meet workforce needs. Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association, noted that the proposal was about "access and affordability," and that expanding degree programs would ultimately be beneficial all around.

"We're not trying to take fish out of their net," he said to WLNS 6 News [from an article originally located at] regarding public universities. "We're just trying to cast a much wider net, to provide this opportunity for people who otherwise wouldn't have had the chance or couldn't have made it maybe financially to go to a four-year institution."

The idea is not a new one. Community colleges in 17 states already confer bachelor's degrees, and some have been reclassified as four-year institutions.

The Seattle Times reports that 57 students graduated this month with bachelor's degrees from Bellevue College--the first four-year degrees to be awarded from Washington community colleges. The students were part of a pilot program that legislators approved in 2005 which permitted four community colleges to grant several four-year degrees in specialized fields.

Jane Floten, the school's president tried to push legislation this year that would have allowed the college to offer a wide range of four-year degrees. But the plan was opposed by public university officials who argued that that the state should first invest in existing institutions before adding more. The bill subsequently died in committee.

In Arizona, community college officials are also considering the possibility of eventually granting four-year degrees, but noted that the change would require approval from the state Legislature, community college districts, the Arizona Board of Regents and others.

"Some legislators are interested in restarting the conversation," said Shouan Pan, president of Mesa Community College, who was quoted in The Arizona Republic. "It's doable because a lot of states have done it."

But Linda Lujan, incoming president of the Chandler-Gilbert Community College, noted that the move would likely stir controversy. "As you can imagine," she said, "it's a contentious discussion."

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