House Bill 5533 and its tie-barred legislative companion, House Bill 4837, are bills currently proposed to the Michigan State Legislature that would allow community colleges in the state to grant baccalaureate degrees in nursing, cement technology, maritime technology, and culinary arts. Both bills would amend the Community College Act by changing the legal definition of a "community college" to allow for such college to offer baccalaureate degrees in the bills' designated areas, as well as changing the authority of the board of trustees of a community college district to allow for them to establish education programs and again, grant baccalaureate degrees in the designated fields.. These bills are proposed in an attempt to not only address an issue of education in this state, but an issue of the struggling economy, as well. These bills strive to bring the cost of higher education down for both the state and the individual and in turn, provide an influx in students for higher education and provide an influx in better educated workers to the workforce. Clearly, the great state of Michigan could significantly benefit from these two possible outcomes, but there are questions that still remain for the lawmakers in support of these bills: Will these bills achieve their intended goals, and what affects will the passage of these bills have on the state's budget?
As with every bill before the legislature, there will be a significant amount of both proponents and opponents. On the proponent side, the main, overwhelming reason for the passage of these bills is to increase access to higher education. They feel that by essentially expanding and improving the capabilities of community colleges, it makes getting a degree in a field of higher education much more convenient and affordable. Some supporters feel that community colleges are crucial to the success of many employers because these colleges are structured in a way to be responsive to the needs of the employers. With this in mind, if community colleges could begin producing a greater amount of workers with baccalaureate degrees, then employers could directly benefit from this new and improved workforce.
On the other hand, the opponents to the passage of these bills raise equally valid points. Their main issue with these bills lies in the role of a community college. Opponents feel that by giving these colleges the ability to grant baccalaureate degrees, the state is completely changing the objectives of what a community college was intended to accomplish: providing affordable education for those individuals seeking a two-year degree before entering the workforce, or for those looking to transfer to a state university to complete even more schooling. These opponents argue that if you expand the role of these schools, it will result in a greater staff, larger campuses, and overall higher tuition costs.
If this role expansion continues for long enough, tuition will reach the level of existing state universities and in turn, the affordability and convenience of community colleges will be lost.
With the state of Michigan in its dire current economic situation, it will be truly interesting to see if these bills will pass. I feel that restructuring of the higher education system at a time like this could be a lost cause, unless the bills‘ supporters can push the benefits of this reform on the state's economy. If these bills prove to be yet another kink thrown into the already mangled state budget, rejection may prove imminent.