The competition for higher education dollars continues to stiffen.

In Higher Education Today, Paul Fain reports on a development in Michigan that impacts educational options for that state’s students.

Michigan gave its community colleges the legal authority to issue bachelor’s degrees last month, becoming the 21st state to do so. That figure has jumped from 11 states just eight years ago.

But the practice remains controversial despite its rapid expansion. The authorizing legislation in Michigan passed only after a bruising multiyear battle. Four-year universities in the state and their advocates are still steaming about the bill, arguing it will lead to duplication of degree programs and harm their collaboration with community colleges.

Michael A. Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council of State Universities of Michigan, said the legislation muddies the distinction between sectors of public higher education. “It’s a foot in the door” for community colleges that aspire to four-year status, he said. “It’s clearly mission creep.”

The biggest risk, experts said, is if ambitious governing boards and presidents at community colleges like the up-market sound of becoming a state college, and begin to give short shrift to the two-year role that other institutions can’t fill. Boulus and other critics warn that the baccalaureate push could lead to accreditation snags, concerns about the quality of degree programs and increased costs at two-year colleges, as they hire faculty and seek facilities upgrades.

Mike Hansen has a different take. Hansen, who is president of the Michigan Community College Association, said the bill in Michigan merely reflects an “evolution” of what community colleges do. Hansen, who is also an officer of the Community College Baccalaureate Association, a national group, said community colleges will be allowed to offer only a limited number of degree programs in high-demand applied science and technical fields, like concrete technology, energy production and culinary arts. Nursing, which is historically an area of significant dispute between two- and four-year institutions, was dropped from the bill.

“I don’t see where the creep is,” he said. “It’s perfectly in keeping with the community college mission.”

Fain’s report also indicates that area community colleges are not planning to open of floodgate of Bachelor Degree programs.

Macomb Community College supported the legislation. But Jim Jacobs, the college’s president, said he has no interest in stepping on the toes of neighbors like Oakland University, Eastern Michigan University or other institutions. The college has no plans to offer four-year degrees.

“Working with four-year schools is far more important to us,” said Jacobs. “There’s no need for us to compete in any way.”