Bill would expand community college degree programs

Published 9:30 am Wednesday, December 30, 2015

New legislation would allow community colleges to expand the number of baccalaureate degrees they could offer, potentially helping fill the demand for skilled workers in southwest Michigan.

Robert Harrison, outgoing president at Lake Michigan College, said Senate Bill 98 would allow LMC and other community colleges to begin offering a four-year nursing degree program.

He said Lakeland Health and South Haven Health System are among local healthcare providers who have been supportive of the bill.

“The real issue is we’ve got local employers looking for people with talent in key areas. The one that gets talked about the most is registered nurses,” Harrison said.

“We feel an obligation that we need to meet our local employers’ needs. That is our primary motivator.”

Under current state law, community colleges in Michigan have the ability to offer four-year degrees in concrete technology, maritime technology, energy production technology and culinary arts.

Senate Bill 98, which was introduced in the Senate earlier this year, would allow community colleges to offer four year degrees in nursing, ski-area management, wastewater treatment technology, allied health, information technology and manufacturing technology.

Harrison said LMC is interested in starting the four-year nursing degree program if the bill is passed.

Currently, LMC offers students a two-year associate’s degree in nursing, which is considered to be an entry level credential.

Harrison said a recent poll of students in LMC’s associate’s degree nursing program found that 75 percent wanted to pursue a bachelor’s degree right away.

“We don’t see any problem filling the classes, especially given the number of associate degree nurses in our reach,” he said. “The reality is healthcare is going to continue to grow as a result of baby boomers.”

Establishing a four-year nursing degree program at LMC, Harrison said, would give local students the ability to further their education without having to travel to Kalamazoo or South Bend or to take online courses.

“We think it is the right thing for our region and the right thing for our healthcare system,” Harrison said. “This is a good bill for the people of Michigan.”