BY ANNE STANTON
---- — TRAVERSE CITY-- A new state law will allow Northwestern Michigan College to offer four-year bachelor's degrees in the fields of maritime studies, energy production, and culinary studies.
"It's the right thing for our students," said NMC President Tim Nelson.
That's because associate degrees no longer make the grade for many jobs, which now require bachelor's degrees, he said.
The college plans to develop a baccalaureate program for maritime studies, which it aims to offer in 18 months. Officials are still evaluating the market need for four-year degrees in culinary arts and energy production, Nelson said.
Nelson led the legislative charge to allow community colleges to grant bachelor's degrees in several fields of study. The law was passed before the state Legislature adjourned for the year, but left out one hoped-for program.
"They removed the bachelor of nursing degree at the final negotiation. It happened in the political process," Nelson said.
NMC will redesign the current maritime program, which it now offers as a business degree through a partnership with Ferris State University. The four-year degree now requires 144 credit hours.
"We believe we can redesign the program to save our students 20 credit hours. Then we'll work with a senior institution to have a tracked master's degree program. That will make more sense for students in the long term," Nelson said.
The change will mean a less compressed class schedule and savings of about $10,000 at current tuition rates, Nelson said.
Nelson said NMC also has a strong interest in offering a four-year nursing degree, which it now offers in partnership at the University Center with Ferris State and Spring Arbor universities. The advantage: NMC could work closely with Munson Medical Center to coordinate class schedules with employee schedules, he said.
All 15 public universities objected to the law. They argued that the state's universities already collaborate with community colleges and the new law would lead to duplication, according to a House Fiscal Agency Legislative Analysis.
"The universities are calling it mission creep," Nelson said. "We believe it is our mission in these specialized areas. I'd like to think our learners won and our community won."
The analysis concluded that the law likely would increase access to higher education at a lower cost, particularly for working adults, but also increase community colleges' operating costs.
NMC spokesman Andy Dolan said it's true extra costs come along with four-year programs, but so do additional tuition revenues.
"Anytime you add something, it's unlikely to be cost neutral. It's something to be weighed as we do it," Dolan said.
Michigan has 28 community colleges and 15 public universities.