Turf war: Community colleges want to offer more 4-year degrees

LANSING — Lawmakers in Michigan have renewed an effort to allow community colleges to award bachelor’s degrees in nursing — a move that could change the way nursing education is delivered in the state as industry preferences evolve to favor nurses with more advanced training.

The state’s 28 community colleges support the idea as a natural extension of their mission. But four-year public universities oppose the measure, arguing the change would undermine existing agreements between community colleges and traditional four-year programs.

Senate Bill 98, introduced by state Sen. Mike Shirkey, is pending in the Senate after a committee approved it in June.

The fight will be uphill. A similar bill was signed into law in December 2012, allowing community colleges to award their first-ever bachelor’s degrees in four technical fields, but nursing was ultimately taken off the table to win votes in the Senate for passage.

Supporters don’t yet know if they have enough votes this time.

But they say the issue makes sense given the changing industry landscape, one shaped by an aging population that requires more medical care and health care reforms that have expanded the number of residents who have health insurance.

Community colleges and hospitals from Dowagiac in Southwest Michigan to Ironwood in the Upper Peninsula are on board, saying the issue mainly is about improving access to higher education. Not all students can afford university tuition or to relocate to attend a four-year school, said Mike Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association. The problem is especially pronounced in rural areas, where commute times to universities are longer.

For example, Gogebic Community College in Ironwood, in the western U.P., is more than two hours away from both Michigan Technological University in Houghton and Northern Michigan University in Marquette, where many students choose to transfer.

If community colleges could offer their own bachelor’s degrees, Hansen said, students would be able to work full time as registered nurses while continuing their education at home — saving both time and money.

“The mission of a community college has always been to serve the community,” he said. “The mission has been expanding and growing.”

In metro Detroit, Henry Ford College in Dearborn and Schoolcraft College in Livonia are among two of as many as 12 with serious interest in offering bachelor’s degrees in nursing, Hansen said.

Henry Ford College graduates about 240 nursing students each year, President Stanley Jensen said.

The college would introduce the bachelor’s degree component as soon as it could if the bill is adopted, and could make up the extra faculty costs by charging slightly higher tuition rates for the upper-level courses.

“It is really kind of a jobs bill for us,” Jensen said.

Wayne County Community College District also submitted testimony in support of the bill.

Opposition exists

Michigan’s public four-year universities — the main opponents to Shirkey’s bill — fear approval would undermine existing partnerships with community colleges that let students transfer credits to complete their degrees, and force them to compete with one another for students.

“In the long run, there may be a concern about market erosion,” said Daniel Hurley, CEO of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, which lobbies on behalf of the state’s 15 public universities.

But, he said, nursing programs inherently are expensive, requiring faculty with master’s degrees or doctorates, labs and clinical space, new curriculum development — and staff time. A shift to community colleges could cost students more in the long term, which would counter statewide policy efforts to maximize efficiency of taxpayer dollars.

“There’s no magic bullet in terms of education delivery. Higher-cost programs cost more,” Hurley said. “From an efficiency standpoint, it’s bad public policy.”

Michigan’s 15 public four-year schools renewed a pledge in June that they would “collaborate with our community college colleagues and will provide locally any new baccalaureate or degree completion program for which there is a need within that community college district.”

The idea, they say, is to eliminate duplication of programs already offered in Michigan. Many already have transfer agreements in place with community colleges that help students transfer credits to finish bachelor’s degrees in a number of fields.

Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, could not be reached for comment last week.

But an analysis by the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency found that colleges’ total funding from state aid or local property taxes would not be affected. It would be up to colleges to decide whether to cover any new costs by charging higher tuition rates to bachelor’s degree students or to all students, or to redirect money from other programs without raising tuition.

The bulk of nursing program expenses is in clinical practice. But colleges already offer clinical training as part of their associate degree programs and won’t need to build more labs, Hansen said.
Much of the additional coursework is lecture-based and so extra costs likely will come from hiring new faculty.

Bill details

Nursing programs aren’t the only educational focus area included in Shirkey’s bill. The legislation would also allow community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in allied health professions such as technicians, information technology and manufacturing technology and also add a bachelor’s degree in ski area management.

Those fields would be in addition to cement technology, energy production technology, maritime technology and culinary arts, which were part of the law Gov. Rick Snyder signed two years ago.

Shirkey’s bill would require any community college wanting to offer a bachelor’s degree program in nursing to meet state requirements for evaluation and inspection of the program, as well as seek accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.

A possible benefit of expanding the number of schools that offer bachelor’s degrees would be sending more students into the pipeline for advanced degrees given by universities, Hansen said.

Community colleges can fill their own faculty needs with adjunct instructors, including working nurses, a process he said would be easier if more master’s- and doctorate-qualified faculty existed.

Tim Nelson, president of Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, said the college paid “a significant portion” of the tuition for two of its faculty members to enroll in university doctoral programs in order to fill NMC’s teaching gaps.

The goal is to reduce turnover by training nurses in the same region where they will work.

Industry leaders say that pipeline — of bachelor’s-trained nurses to hospitals, and later to universities for advanced degrees — has been necessary as health care grows more complex.

The Institute of Medicine recommends that 80 percent of the country’s registered nurses hold bachelor’s degrees by 2020.

Said Chris Mitchell, vice president of government and public affairs for the Michigan Health and Hospital Association: “Having a bigger pot of nurses that are looking for jobs, I think, would benefit everybody, but more in particular folks in rural communities.”

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Mon, 07/13/2015 - 7:37am
I find the opposition by 4-year universities ridiculous since they, as a habit, wait list or fail to admit highly qualified in-state students. And the nursing programs only accept a small percentage of students that apply. We need additional nursing staff, as well as additional options for in-state students... especially those in rural areas. The schools and the politicians are out of touch.
Mon, 07/13/2015 - 7:43am
Public Universities and Community Colleges are becoming a behemoth fraud for taxpayers.
Mon, 07/13/2015 - 10:57am
Nice contribution, Mark. All this time I thought that the public universities, that take a whopping 21% of their funding from the state, were actually providing an education. I suggest that you stay in your cave and work a little more on your capitalization lessons.
Thu, 07/16/2015 - 8:52am
Please explain what you mean and how!
Mon, 07/13/2015 - 8:34am
I received my ADN from one of Wisconsin's excellent technical colleges, as did one of my sisters. The course content and clinical experience we received were equal to that offered by the 4-year programs. In fact, the technical college we attended offered the opportunity to work with a human cadaver... something the university students weren't offered. Both of us passed our nursing boards on the first try and went on to enter employment on the same level and pay as first year BSN grads. Both she and I were non-traditional (older) students, and neither of us wished to go into supervision or management. (My sister is now an excellent hospice nurse and I'm retired.) Wisconsin offers the opportunity to continue to BSN and MSN degrees with full credit for work finished in the ADN programs. I don't see the need to expand the technical/community colleges to 4 year programs in nursing as long as the ADN program is of excellent quality and fully accepted by the 4 year institutions.
J.J. Boehm
Mon, 07/13/2015 - 11:40am
I work for SVSU. In the Great Lakes Bay Region, we have partnered with our neighbor community college, Delta, on a program that allows students to pursue an ADN and a BSN simultaneously. Here is a link to recent news coverage on that partnership:http://www.ourmidland.com/news/svsu-delta-offer-joint-program-in-nursing...We also are working with other community colleges, and hospitals and other health care providers, on RN to BSN programs.
Mon, 07/13/2015 - 9:59am
The gap of the above comment is that hospitals are now seeking what is called magnet status which, in effect, sets up a goal that 80% of nursing staff should or shall be BSN and not A.D.N. So, working nurses of the A.D.N. will be forced to go back and obtain the BSN. Without community college help, these nurses will be barred from local access and tuition affordibility
Mon, 07/13/2015 - 1:29pm
It's foolish in the extreme for Michigan's community colleges to seek to expand their programs to offer bachelor degrees in nursing and other healthcare professions when the chief bottleneck preventing the expansion of enrollment in their existing 2-year programs is the lack of instructors who are sufficiently well-qualified to maintain / obtain accreditation. Secondarily, there are often not enough facilities available to hold the currently-required laboratory class sections for the students who are already enrolled in community college nursing and allied healthcare programs. Where are the community colleges going to get the capital funding to build the needed new classrooms and labs if students stay for 4 years instead of 2? Starting or expanding a nursing program that can't qualify for accreditation would be a serious dis-service to the students, their prospective patients and the community. It would be a waste of time and money. The BS nursing programs at Michigan's universities are heavily over-subscribed, and are therefore pretty selective when it comes to admissions. They also have problems hiring and keeping enough qualified instructors. Right now, we have excellent transfer agreements in place between community colleges and universities. These should be continued, and possibly expanded, as long as the quality of education is not threatened. Michigan would be much better served if the legislature were to prioritize funding for Michigan Virtual University to collaborate with one or more existing university nursing programs to develop upper division, on-line or blended learning s courses that could be taken "any time, any place", supplemented by weekend or evening laboratory and practicum exams held on cooperating community college or university campuses across the state. These classes should be accepted for transfer credit at all Michigan state-supported colleges and universities towards earning BS degrees in nursing or other healthcare specialties. This approach would allow for folks who live and work far from a university to advance their education, and thus their careers, at less expense and with much more flexibility, but without requiring substantially more hiring or building of student lab space by our educational institutions.
Mon, 07/13/2015 - 6:15pm
This article indicates that the whole reason for extending community college degrees to 4 year bachelor degrees is to provide nursing degrees because of a current demand for such degrees. There is also a demand for skill tradesman. I would support the extension to bachelor degrees in nursing at the community college if the schools were also establishing skill trade programs such as welding, high tech welding, at those same schools. That would seem to address current employment needs and allow local communities develop pools of people industry cold draw on. I believe that the purpose of community colleges is to serve as a gateway to advanced education locally. I believe that there is a whole new set of burdens that come with developing and offering a board set of 4 years degrees, there is a whole new set of requirements such as facilities, staffing, support to enable the schools to have such degrees acredited, because without acredidation the value of the degree and all the efforts by the students is deminished. It also puts a burden on the schools to compete with the universities for students to such programs. Simply saying you have a program does not assure any school of sufficient students to support the programs. Also I have a concern that we have many 4 year degree programs even in our universities that are not preparing students for employment that will allow them to repay schooling loans. The other reality is that no matter what is said today any 4 year program will want/need to expand into additonal advanced (Master, etc.) to validate their undergraduate program and to compete with univerisities. Add nursing, only if certificed skilled trade programs are also added, but no other degrees.
Morris Taber
Mon, 07/13/2015 - 7:58pm
A significant cost savings at community colleges is that the staff is hired to teach and thus have siginicantly more contact hours a week. This would make the upper level classes less expensive. For students at some community colleges, it is already essentially a three year program as they take most of their academic before being admitted in the nursing program. This produces siginicantly better graduation and exam results.