One state may soon offer four year degree programs at community colleges to combat declining enrollments at two year schools.
The appeal of a college degree is waning and institutes for higher education are experiencing sharp declines in masses of students. Community colleges are especially feeling the negative effects of this, losing students in droves. Last fall, community college enrollment fell by a whopping 10% according to The Hechinger Report. However, these tax-dollar-funded schools are looking for ways to combat this, and offering four year degrees has become a consideration for many.
Generally, community colleges only offer two year associate degrees. But many states are looking to change that. Michigan is one such state debating whether or not to offer four year degree programs within community colleges. The concept is gaining traction, but some lawmakers fear the practice may have legal ramifications and could possibly be unconstitutional.
In reality, Michigan has offered four year degrees at some community colleges since 2012. However, this is done in a limited capacity for only a select group of specific bachelor’s degrees. In recent years, the legislature has considered extending this act to offer a wide array of baccalaureate degrees at these schools. But according to a report from The 74 Million, many constituents are hesitant to join the movement.
Some lawmakers are questioning the legality of offering four year degrees because of Michigan’s constitution. Within, it states that only the state universities may offer bachelor programs without a board appointed by the state governor. On the other hand, proponents argue that this wouldn’t stop community colleges from being able to offer such programs, because they are equipped with elected boards. Because of the confusion, politicians are seeking advice from the state’s attorney general.
Community colleges have long been perceived as the inferior standard to four-year colleges and universities, which makes them less appealing to many college incoming teenagers. What’s more, the pandemic and its effects on the economy further drove down their enrollments. The typical community college student is financially strapped. People that fall into this category have abandoned the prospect of attaining a two year or four year degree altogether in recent years, driving enrollment further down.
Despite this, colleges are more likely to be able to garner more interest if they offer a wider array of degree programs, such as four year nursing degrees. Bachelor programs like this one are more attractive to striving nurses because they can lead to a wider array of job opportunities with better pay. Additionally, these offerings can open up vast options to an untapped population, who may be unable to travel to farther away schools that offered bachelor programs they were interested in.
Michigan isn’t the only state offering and considering extending its four year degree opportunities at the community college level. At least 24 states now have approved plans for this. Most of these measures have been pased in recent years, which means that this good news might not be a reality yet for many community colleges yet, as schools still figure out how to create these programs at the local level.
Community colleges are failing all across America. This means that many are closing, or merging with others to stay afloat. Offering four year degree programs may not be the complete solution, but it could be a step in the right direction for struggling schools.