Evolution Or Mission Creep?

Michigan gave its community colleges the legal authority to issue bachelor’s degrees last month, becoming the 21st state to do so. That figure has jumped from 11 states just eight years ago.

But the practice remains controversial despite its rapid expansion. The authorizing legislation in Michigan passed only after a bruising multiyear battle. Four-year universities in the state and their advocates are still steaming about the bill, arguing it will lead to duplication of degree programs and harm their collaboration with community colleges.

Michael A. Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council of State Universities of Michigan, said the legislation muddies the distinction between sectors of public higher education. “It’s a foot in the door” for community colleges that aspire to four-year status, he said. “It’s clearly mission creep.”

The biggest risk, experts said, is if ambitious governing boards and presidents at community colleges like the up-market sound of becoming a state college, and begin to give short shrift to the two-year role that other institutions can’t fill. Boulus and other critics warn that the baccalaureate push could lead to accreditation snags, concerns about the quality of degree programs and increased costs at two-year colleges, as they hire faculty and seek facilities upgrades.

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