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4-Year Degrees From Community Colleges? Michigan AG Considers the Question

Allowing community colleges to grant four-year degrees has long been debated by the state legislature, but some argue that policy is unconstitutional.

Susan J. Demas

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State Rep. Steve Johnson (R-Wayland) has asked Attorney General Dana Nessel to give her opinion on whether the Michigan Constitution allows community colleges to grant baccalaureate degrees. 

Allowing community colleges to grant four-year degrees has been debated in the Legislature, but there appears to be a strong argument that the policy is unconstitutional, Johnson said in a letter addressed to Nessel.

“The Legislature is having an important and robust discussion on whether to expand the types of degrees that community colleges may offer, such as a four-year nursing degree,” Johnson said.

“These discussions are fruitless 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 this and I think it is important that the Attorney General’s office weighs in on this,” Johnson said.

The Michigan Constitution states that institutions, other than the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University, which offer baccalaureate degrees, must have a board appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. 

However, the constitution also requires community colleges to have an elected board, creating the constitutional conflict. 

“Obviously until this primary, antecedent question of constitutionality is settled, there’s no point in debating the policy. It wastes taxpayer resources and is bad governance to boot, when we consider unconstitutional fixes to pressing public policy problems,” Johnson said. 

While the constitution seemingly creates two different categories of boards to oversee the university, the constitution also includes a provision allowing community college boards of trustees to establish programs granting baccalaureate degrees in cement technology, maritime technology, energy production technology or culinary arts.

This section appears to give community college boards of trustees baccalaureate-degree-granting power, which the state constitution reserves to governor and Senate installed boards.

“I am not an attorney, but I struggle to see how [this provision] can be reconciled with the above constitutional provisions,” Johnson said. 

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

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