DENVER - Currently the mission of offering four-year degrees to college students in Colorado falls to universities. If a bill introduced to the Colorado State Legislature is passed, community colleges will be able to offer select four-year degrees as well.
"This bill is about affordability and accessibility," State Senator Nancy Todd said, (D-Aurora).
The bill has bi-partisan support. It is co-sponsored by Todd and Jim Wilson, a Republican senator from Chafee County.
"I believe there is a place of acceptance for all students and for them to be able to be successful," Todd said.
Community colleges traditionally have lower tuitions than four-year universities. Many students attend community colleges in order to obtain credits that can then be transferred toward a four-year degree at a university. Senate Bill 165 would allow some students the option of staying in the community college.
It would also allow students who find the cost of a four-year degree from a university to be prohibitive the chance to still obtain a degree.
"This would give them an opportunity to stay in the same venue, the same school, working with the same people that they have become familiar with and be able to achieve that bachelor of applied science degree," Todd said.
The legislation would only allow community colleges to offer four-year degrees in some areas, such as for dental hygienists and culinary arts.
The legislation is being opposed by the presidents of seven universities in Colorado, including Colorado State University, University of Colorado, Colorado School of Mines, Fort Lewis College, Colorado Mesa University, Western State Colorado University and Adams State University. The presidents of those schools sent a letter to Colorado legislators asking them oppose the legislation.
A portion of the letter read, "Given that the state clearly has surplus capacity at many of its four-year institutions, it simply does not make sense for community colleges to expand into the baccalaureate marketplace. In a resource-constrained environment there are better ways to do this - not by adding overlapping, redundant and inefficient programs, but by looking for ways for community colleges to partner with four-year institutions to deliver degrees from established and already accredited program."
The letter went on to question the value of a four-year degree obtained from a community college.
"Additionally, a four-year degree from a community college would be of limited value to a student in either the commercial marketplace or the academic environment.
Fundamentally, there is a direct correlation between the value of a degree and the academic reputation of the institution that grants it."
Todd disagrees and believes providing greater access to four-year degrees will open doors to employment for more Colorado students.
"I believe the proof is in the pudding. We get a degree and then it is up to you to prove, I am the best person for you to hire," Todd said.
Senate Bill 165 is scheduled for its first hearing before the education committee on March 20.
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