College of DuPage is looking for the right to offer four-year degrees.
President Robert Breuder said it should be legal in Illinois for community colleges to offer four-year programs.
“It seems to me that the moment in time is here,” he said.
According to Breuder, 22 other states already allow community colleges to offer four-year programs, including Florida, Texas and New York.
“I don’t hear any state saying ‘we made a bad decision,’” Breuder said.
He stressed that community colleges including COD have no interest in competing with four-year institutions for students interested in liberal arts degrees, but would concentrate on areas of applied technology and career programs, and then only when there could be demonstrated a verifiable need for a degree-granting program.
Manufacturing, automotive technology and nursing are just some of the career fields that many community colleges have traditionally offered either associate’s degrees or certificates for students upon completion.
Breuder said the advantages to students in being able to obtain a four-year degree at places like COD are many, including the reduced cost of earning the degree.
Many of the potential students for degrees in applied science fields are either older students who support themselves or those just out of high school with limited resources, he said.
He also said community college instructors wouldn’t be graduate students only a few months removed from undergraduate status themselves, but full-time instructors dedicated to teaching their students, and most often in smaller classes than might be found in four-year institutions.
A specific advantage to COD is the fact that a recent refurbishing of the campus, thanks to a $168 million bond referendum in 2010, makes it all the more able to host new degree programs.
“Who has a better facility,” Breuder asked. “Tell me what university has a better facility than we have.”
Colorado was the most recent state to give two-year institutions the option of adding to their degree offerings, and California has legislation pending that would allow its community colleges the same flexibility.
When Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper recently signed the legislation allowing community colleges to offer four-year degrees, it was only after determined opposition from the state’s four-year institutions.
Many universities and colleges across the country have expressed concerns about the change, and what it would mean for their institutions.
Indeed, when Breuder was president of Harper College in Palatine, he led a similar effort eight years ago and actually got a pilot program through the House of Representatives, but it ultimately fell short in the Senate.
Breuder has reached out to local organizations such as Choose DuPage and workNet DuPage Career Center, in addition to making the pitch to state legislators serving the area.
Legislators contacted indicated that they were willing to listen, but needed more information before taking a position.
State Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-42nd of Wheaton, is concerned that if the state’s two-year colleges begin offering four-year degrees, they might soon not be so affordable.
“Does cost rise with that,” she asked.
Ives also wants to know more about the possible effect on the mission that community colleges fulfill.
“Does the two-year certificate get overshadowed,” she asked. “What would the focus be. We should look at these things before we go down this route.”
State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-84th of Oswego, is intrigued by the idea, but also wants more information.
“It’s something to at least explore and research,” she said.