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Looking for a truce on community college degrees

A group of higher ed administrators and others are working to find a compromise plan for community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees, an issue that prompted the most bitter education fight of the 2013 legislative session.

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia briefed the Colorado Commission on Higher Education about the negotiations last week. “I will say they are making progress … nothing is final yet.”

The state community college system, with bipartisan legislative support, last spring pushed a bill that would have allowed community colleges to offer a very limited number of bachelor of applied science degrees in fields like dental hygiene and water quality. Four-year schools – with the exception of Metro State – marshaled their lobbyists against the measure, and it died by one vote in a House committee (see story).

A group of negotiators has been meeting since September to work on a bill acceptable to everybody.

“They are moving closer,” Garcia said, adding that the degrees would be in fields “that are not currently offered by four-year institutions.”

Chad Marturano, Department of Higher Education lobbyist, told the commission that the current discussions would allow community colleges to offer an unlimited number of such degrees, but that colleges would have to jump through several hoops to get CCHE approval.

“I love it when we come to agreements among the institutions,” said commissioner Happy Haynes, who’s also a member of the Denver school board. “We’re not saying there is an agreement,” Garcia repeated.

A couple of commissioners asked for a full presentation on the issue in December, and commissioner Monte Moses, former Cherry Creek superintendent, urged that the group take a position on the issue, which is didn’t last time around. “By doing so we probably will irritate some people, but this commission should weigh in.”

Some states already allow community colleges to offer four-year degrees, and California is considering such a change. A few years ago the legislature authorized Colorado Mountain College to offer some four-year degrees, and the commission approved three CMC programs Thursday. (CMC receives some state funding but is not part of the state system as it also receives local tax support in several central mountain counties.)

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