Battle of Degrees Heats Up: Universities, Community Colleges Spar over Four-year Programs

Battle of Degrees Heats Up: Universities, Community Colleges Spar over Four-year Programs

November 29, 2009/Crain's Detroit Business


By Amy Lane


LANSING — A move by community colleges to offer bachelor's degrees in nursing and three other areas is sparking a turf war with four-year universities.


At issue is state House legislation, recently approved by committee, that would allow colleges to grant four-year baccalaureate degrees in nursing, cement technology, maritime technology and culinary arts.


Community colleges say they should be able to offer four-year degrees in select areas in which there is a workforce need, such as nursing, or in professions in which employers increasingly seek four-year bachelor's degrees that are not available in Michigan.


But universities cite numerous collaborations and agreements with two-year schools that enable students to receive bachelor's degrees from four-year institutions, and say the degree expansion is unneeded and could divert scarce state funding.


“The biggest threat is we can't fund our existing 15 public universities. If we are going to expand baccalaureates into community colleges, who's going to pay for this,” said Mike Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan.


“This injects a different type of relationship — competition for funds and programs — between the two-years and the four-years at a time when we should be working together,” he said. “It is perceived by many as simply a money grab, and I think it is.”


But Mike Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association, said community colleges “have absolutely no intent” to ask for new state money to support the programs. He said colleges would probably charge higher tuition in the third and fourth years of a baccalaureate program to support costs.


He said less than a third of Michigan's 28 community colleges are likely to take advantage of the legislation, but allowing those interested to do so could help make four-year degrees more affordable and attainable for students.


“It's not like tomorrow all 28 of these community colleges want to become four-year” institutions, Hansen said.


Alpena Community College, which developed an associate's degree in cement technology in concert with local industry and others, is interested in offering a bachelor's degree, while Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City is interested in the bachelor's maritime degree. NMC operates one of the country's six federally authorized maritime academies, in conjunction with Ferris State University. Students who earn an associate of applied science degree from the maritime academy also can earn a bachelor of business administration degree from Ferris.


Schoolcraft College in Livonia, whose offerings include a two-year culinary arts degree, says its students would be better able to obtain jobs with major hospitality industry employers if they had bachelor's degrees.


Boulus, at the Presidents Council, said there are four-year programs currently available, such as bachelor's degrees in hotel and resort management and a bachelor of business administration degree with an emphasis on culinary arts.


But Jim Ryan, executive director of development and governmental relations at Schoolcraft, said the college wants to look at preparing students for niche areas that go beyond traditional hotel or restaurant management.


“Jobs of the future,” he said, are in areas such as food science, nutrition, personal and corporate chefs.


And in regard to offering bachelor's degrees in nursing, Ryan said, “we believe there's plenty of room, plenty of need out there, especially with adults making the transition when they've lost a job.”


Of the four-year degree programs possible under the legislation, nursing draws particular controversy.


One issue is the legislation's wording. It calls for a bachelor's degree in nursing, not the bachelor's of science in nursing, or BSN, offered by universities that are accredited through national nursing accreditation bodies. For nurses to be accepted into master's degree programs, for example, they must have a BSN from an accredited BSN program.


“If there's a need for more programs, why doesn't the Legislature give money to us who have programs already up and running, already accredited,” said Barbara Redman, dean of the Wayne State University College of Nursing.


A task force on nursing education, convened by the Michigan Department of Community Health, recommended in a July report that the department require national accreditation for all nursing education programs preparing students for required licensure exams.


Community college officials say they intend to pursue accreditation and offer the BSN.


“It will have some cost associated with it, but that's what you do when you want to offer degrees that work for people,” Ryan said.


The college officials say some universities are closing off programs in which two-year-trained nurses transfer to universities to complete their BSN, and say that's evidence of the need for the four-year community college option.


For example, Wayne State currently is not accepting applications in its BSN completion program, but Redman said that's a budgetary issue “and we have 133 students in that program right now, so we want to be sure that we can finish those students.”


She said there are other schools that are under capacity in their programs.


House Bill 4837, sponsored by John Walsh, R-Livonia, and House Bill 5533, sponsored by Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch, aren't the first times discussion has surfaced in the Legislature over community colleges offering bachelor's degrees.


But the bills, which have the support of House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township, have progressed further than past attempts. Walsh, a former Schoolcraft operations officer, said it's possible the bills could see action in the full House before the Legislature breaks for the December holidays.


A House Fiscal Agency analysis notes that offering the select bachelor's degrees would increase community college operating costs, such as salary and benefits for additional faculty and support staff, as well as in areas such as administration and accreditation.


Ryan and Hansen said colleges would, in part, use adjunct faculty, such as people with master's degrees and Ph.D.s who also work at local hospitals, to fill some teaching needs.


Still, adequate nursing faculty are in short supply.


Last year, across all Michigan nursing programs, the Michigan State Board of Nursing granted 150 waivers giving schools conditional permission to hire instructors that held lower degrees than required but who were working toward the appropriate degree completion.


The majority of the waivers were at community colleges, according to the state.


Universities, which say the challenges of increasing the number of nurses in Michigan relate to lack of faculty, funding and clinical space, are skeptical about community college plans to use adjunct faculty.


“That's not going to meet the needs,” Boulus said. “You can't do this on the cheap.”


He said the adjunct pay would not be attractive enough for the time commitment, but Ryan disagreed.


“We have 300 to 400 adjunct faculty now that have a real job and then come in and do this,” Ryan said. “We truly believe we can pull in people to staff our program here.”


Amy Lane: (517) 371-5355,

Posted on Monday, November 30, 2009 (Archive on Wednesday, November 11, 2015)
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