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Posted at 10:23 AM ET, 11/30/2009

Should two-year community colleges offer bachelor's degrees?

By Valerie Strauss

Community colleges are big news these days. With skyrocketing enrollments, declining state funding and a high profile champion--Second Lady Jill Biden, a professor at Northern Virginia Community College--the schools that educate almost half of the country’s undergraduates are finally getting the attention they deserve.

Today's Washington Post has an interesting story by my colleague Daniel DeVise about honor students opting for community colleges rather than four-year institutions simply because of the low cost. Students can earn two years of credit for about $8,000 before transferring to a more prestigious four-year school--and more of them are doing it.

But there is another change on the community college landscape that is causing controversy: Whether the two-year schools should be allowed to offer four-year degrees.

In some places, they already are. In Florida, half of the 28 community colleges now offer bachelor’s degrees, sometimes to the consternation of four-year schools that don’t like the inexpensive competition.

Legislation in the Michigan state House that would allow community colleges to award four-year bachelor’s degrees in nursing, cement technology, maritime technology and culinary arts, has sparked a big debate.

Community colleges say they should be able to offer four-year programs in industries where there is a workplace need.

Advocates for the state’s universities oppose the move, saying that government funding is already low and that there is not enough to cover any such new programs. The community colleges counter by saying they would charge more tuition for the four-year programs and not seek more state money.

That raises the obvious question: Can these schools run quality programs and keep the cost at a truly affordable level?

I applaud efforts to offer more education choices to people of all ages at a reasonable price. If community colleges can offer solid four-programs, why shouldn’t they? What do you think?

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By Valerie Strauss  | November 30, 2009; 10:23 AM ET
Categories:  Community Colleges  | Tags:  bachelor's degrees, community colleges  
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