Last December during the lame duck session, state lawmakers passed a bill authorizing Michigan's 28 community colleges to offer bachelor degrees in maritime technology, energy production, cement technology and culinary arts.
“The legislation passed despite opposition from the 15 state universities – and only after nursing was eliminated as one of the approved technical areas,” says Stephen Siciliano, Northwestern Michigan College’s vice president of educational services. “Until NMC is able to offer its own bachelor of science in nursing degree, it will be looking for additional four-year college and university partnerships as a possible solution to our area’s critical need for a bachelor nursing program.”
Meanwhile, the college has turned its focus toward developing an applied technical baccalaureate in maritime technology.
The next step is developing an application to the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) to start the “Change in Status” process, says Marguerite Cotto, vice president for professional and lifelong learning.
“What this means is preparation of master schedules, completing a self-assessment that answers a series of academic process questions about the proposed degree, etc.” she says.
The HLC is an independent corporation and one of two commission members of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
Cotto and other NMC officials have met with Great Lakes Maritime Academy (GLMA) Superintendent Jerry Achenbach to begin preparing for HLC approval. They believe they can redesign the current maritime program to save students time and money, but stress NMC will continue to partner with Ferris State University in meeting the needs of GLMA students.
In a few weeks, Cotto, Siciliano and Darby Hiller, executive director of research, planning and effectiveness, will attend a conference where community college representatives work together to prepare for HLC accreditation.
“This work over the next few weeks will allow us to start formulating an implementation plan, which is due to the NMC Board of Trustees by the end of June,” Siciliano says.
So what about the other degrees allowed in the bill?
“It's unlikely NMC would offer cement technology since we don't really have a program to build up to that,” says Andy Dolan, executive director of public relations and marketing. “We’re going to do market analysis on energy production and culinary to determine when or if to go forward with those.”
Opponents of the new baccalaureate program say it will create duplication between community colleges and universities while supporters say it will make college degrees more affordable and accessible.
NMC President Tim Nelson, who had launched a webpage to encourage people to contact their lawmakers in support of the Community College Baccalaureate Authorization Bill, says it will help make Michigan's workplace more competitive.
“This is an important step for our students and the future students in Michigan,” he says. “This authorization, coupled with our current and continuing partnerships at the University Center, provide superior access to higher education for citizens in our region.”