Community colleges across Missouri could offer baccalaureates in select programs instead of being limited to two-year associate degrees.
A proposed bill would allow community colleges, through the Coordinating Board of Higher Education, to apply for four-year degree programs if employment in the field requires a baccalaureate-level education. The bill was debated on and perfected this week on the House floor.
This bill aims to help underemployed fields in Missouri, such as nursing. A 2017 report showed that the state’s shortage of nurses reached an all-time high in 2016. The ability to award bachelor’s degrees would “enable (community colleges) to meet local workforce needs,” said Bobby Remis, spokesman for the Missouri Community College Association.
Community colleges must meet many standards to be approved for a four-year degree program. The proposed program would only be accepted if other options, such as collaboration with a four-year university, are unfeasible and the program does not “unnecessarily duplicate” other programs offered at other institutions.
If the four-year programs offering the degree are already at the max capacity, only then could the community colleges apply to the Coordinating Board, if they felt like offering the degree.
Additionally, each community college would have to prove that there is a workforce need for the program and that it has the capacity to deliver a high-quality program which can meet that need.
All 22 public universities and colleges have agreed to the terms of the bill and met twice about it, said state Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, who is the chair of the state committee on higher education.
Some lawmakers, however, were concerned about the part of the bill which would authorize the University of Missouri (MU) as the only issuer of research doctorates in Missouri.
State Rep. Courtney Allen Curtis expressed skepticism that all the colleges agreed to give the MU the right to be the only issuer.
“Just because (the colleges besides MU) say yes, doesn’t mean they want it,” Curtis said. “If they compromise, that means they may compromise themselves out of the future. It’s setting up ourselves for failure.”
Lichtenegger defended the university, saying it was capable of leading the higher education community and was worthy of holding that position. But Curtis pointed to the campus protests of 2015 by Concerned Student 1950, saying “Mizzou has lost the right to claim that status.”
Lichtenegger responded that most community colleges don’t offer doctorate degrees in the first place. Remis also said the primary focus for the community colleges was on attaining the ability to provide a baccalaureate degree.
Two amendments to the bill were proposed. One would require that colleges have to post information, such as percentage of graduates employed and current job market for the degree, with every degree offered on their public website. The second would ask all community colleges to open a course to any Missouri student if there is no similar course offered in the student’s local community college.
Both were withdrawn, and the bill was perfected.
Both MU and community colleges advocated for passage of the bill.
“We have been very supportive of the bill,” MU spokesman Christian Basi said. “It has the potential change to help provide quality education to promising, young students all over Missouri who otherwise would be turned away.”