Can community colleges offer 4-year degrees? The GOP lawmaker wants AG to set the record straight.


A Republican House lawmaker is asking the Attorney General’s Department to clarify whether community colleges without a board of trustees have the power to issue bachelor’s degrees under the Michigan Constitution.

Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, submitted a request for an opinion to the department late Thursday, August 18. In it, he notes that Michigan law outlines how institutions of higher education are governed and that state law states that the governor is responsible for appointing members to an eight-person board that oversees a university’s operations.

But that only appears to apply to universities, Johnson wrote, noting that a separate part of Michigan law appears to state that all public community and junior colleges are governed by locally elected boards.

Coupled with the fact that a third part of the state constitution states that a community college board of trustees may establish education programs “and award a bachelor’s degree in cement technology, marine technology, energy production or culinary arts,” Johnson said. the sections seem to contradict each other.

“This subsection appears to give locally elected community college boards of trustees the power to grant the bachelor’s degree—a power that (the state constitution) explicitly reserves to governor-appointed and Senate-installed boards governing institutions. non-EU higher education,” he wrote. . “I am not a lawyer, but I find it difficult to see how (the law) can be reconciled with the constitutional provisions above.”

The reason for the demand, Johnson added, is because the legislature has continued to have conversations about whether to expand the types of degrees community colleges can offer, such as four-year nursing degrees. year.

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But those talks are fruitless, Johnson said in a statement Thursday, “if it is unconstitutional for community colleges to offer such degrees.”

“My initial reading and understanding of the law seems to prohibit community colleges from doing this and I think it’s important that the attorney general’s office intervene on this,” he said.

Policy discussions about whether to expand individuals’ access to earning a four-year nursing degree at community colleges have been the subject of much discussion in recent years, particularly with regard to relates to nursing.

Community college groups say expanding supply is critical to addressing nursing shortages in Michigan — something that has become especially relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, academic groups consistently push back against this idea, saying there are already a slew of open nursing degree programs across the state that aren’t being filled to capacity.

More recently, outside the legislature, Rep. John Roth, R-Interlochen, attempted to introduce legislation that would set out guidance on how community colleges could offer a four-year bachelor of science in nursing via Bill 5556. and Bill 5557.

Although they were heard by the House Education Committee last November and then reported to the House floor in December, they have not been voted on since.

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