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Who Should Be Offering 4-Year Degrees?

August 31, 2016

Should the state’s 28 community colleges be allowed to offer baccalaureate degrees?  If they do offer four-year degrees, should they continue to receive local property tax revenue?  This is just one of the many issues that Michigan lawmakers are considering in Lansing that affect many Michiganders. 

Up for consideration is Senate Bill 98, which would allow community colleges in Michigan to offer baccalaureate degrees in ski area management, allied health, information technology, manufacturing technology and nursing. 

A few years ago, in the 2012-2013 legislative session, the state legislature gave the state’s community colleges the authority to offer four-year degrees in cement technology, maritime technology, energy production technology and culinary arts. Many other states allow community colleges to offer baccalaureate degrees; however, those states place much greater restrictions on those offerings than are currently being debated in Senate Bill 98.

One sizable concern with this legislation is that allowing Michigan's community colleges to offer four-year degrees is simply bad public policy because it is an inefficient use of taxpayer resources and wasteful spending to address no unmet need.

Michigan has reduced its higher education funding dramatically over the past several years (down by approximately $500 million since 2000) and surely cannot afford to add 28 more public four-year degree granting colleges to its budget. This is exactly what would happen if community colleges are allowed to issue baccalaureate degrees.

Analysis by the non-partisan House Fiscal Agency indicates that allowing community colleges to offer baccalaureate degrees would increase operating costs at the state's community colleges that choose to offer these programs. Increases in tuition prices and local taxation would most likely occur to fund these additional degrees. Passage of Senate Bill 98 would add further significant challenges to nursing education, in particular, given the existing shortage of qualified nursing faculty and clinical placement sites.

Other major concerns that derive from Senate Bill 98 are labor market and constitutional issues. Michigan’s constitution states that higher education institutions that grant four-year degrees must have statewide elected board members or board members appointed by the Governor. The state’s community colleges have boards that are locally elected. 

There are two other bills that address one of the constitutional issues mentioned above - House Bills 5611 and 5612.  These bills would prohibit a community college from collecting property taxes if they offer one of the new bachelor's degrees contained in Senate Bill 98. Community colleges currently receive a large portion of their revenue from local property taxes. The state’s 15 public colleges and universities do not receive any property tax revenue. 

Those who support these bills believe it is only fair that if a community college is allowed to grant baccalaureate degrees like a four-year university, they shouldn’t be allowed to collect local property taxes either. These bills passed the House Tax Policy Committee with strong bipartisan support and are now on the House floor awaiting further action. 

If you would like to make your voice heard on this, or any other piece of legislation, please contact your State Representative and/or Senator. 


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