By Kayla Tucker – Managing Editor
During a recent board of trustees retreat, Grand Rapids Community College president Steven Ender discussed the option of the college offering bachelor’s degrees.
State legislators are currently working through a bill that will allow community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in a wider variety of trade fields than what is currently offered.
The bill in question was presented by state Sen. Mike Shirkey, who said in a press release that the if passed, the bill will reap multiple benefits for students and breach the “skills gap,” where employers can’t hire willing workers that don’t have specific qualifications.
“Providing students with a better range of choices nearby will mean they have more time and resources for the other important activities outside of school,” Shirkey stated in the release. “Since many attending these colleges are adults who would benefit from a shorter drive and more affordable tuition, we are pleased the bill has moved through committee and anticipate enthusiastic support as it comes to the floor.”
Some community colleges in the state have changed their names as well as adopted bachelor’s degree programs at their college. Michael Hansen, Michigan Community College Association president, said that the two have no correlation.
“I think Jackson (College) and Henry Ford (College) did it for a variety of reasons, one of them may have been the anticipation of doing baccalaureate degrees,” Hansen said. “The two things, in other words, are not necessarily related and they’re certainly not required.”
Hansen agreed that offering bachelor’s degrees at community colleges will give students a more affordable and accessible option for their degree path compared to four-year universities.
“Removing those barriers, the geographical access barrier and the financial access barrier, will be really beneficial to those students that are currently denied access to one of these degrees,” Hansen said.
Hansen said the bachelor’s degrees that community colleges are currently allowed to legally offer are not offered at any university in Michigan. These degrees are concrete technology, maritime technology, culinary arts, and energy production.
“The point of the legislation is certainly not to infringe on or, in any way, diminish these partnerships,” Hansen said.
In bigger cities like Grand Rapids, Detroit, and Lansing, partnerships between universities and community colleges flourish nicely. But more isolated areas of the state like Alpena, Traverse City and the upper peninsula can not reap these benefits because bigger schools are not looking to expand in those areas.
“In those areas, where there aren’t partnerships, let’s allow the community college to offer these instead of waiting and hoping and praying that the four years will come up there and provide these programs,” Hansen said.
If the bill eventually becomes law, nursing degrees will be available at participating community colleges.
“It’s clear that the state is in desperate need of more baccalaureate trained nurses, so there’s room for lots of people to play in this market and we’re just trying to increase that field,” Hansen said.
Bill Pink, Dean of Workforce Development at GRCC, said that his department does not have a position on the possibility unless it becomes a law.
“There are a lot of factors that we have to take into account,” Pink said. “In terms of financial issues … as well as from a community standpoint and seeing if it’s viable or a need.”
Overall, Hansen said that the main focus is educating students.
“We want to try to give more options for students to get these degrees,” Hansen said. “Whichever way that happens, is fine.”