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Community colleges degree bill killed in House

The bill that would have allowed community colleges to offer a very limited number of bachelor’s degrees has failed by one vote in the House Education Committee.

Andy Dorsey, president of Front Range Community College president, testifies in favor of SB 165. System President Nancy McCallin is at center, and bill sponsor Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, is at the right.
Andy Dorsey, president of Front Range Community College president, testifies in favor of SB 165. System President Nancy McCallin is at center, and bill sponsor Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, is at the right.
Patrick Wall

The measure, Senate Bill 13-165, was the one significant higher education bill of the 2013 session, and it sparked a brisk turf war between the state’s 13 community colleges and most of the state’s universities. The bill was heavily lobbied, and the big schools won.

Nancy McCallin, president of the community college system, said after the Monday vote that she was disappointed. But she added, “this isn’t the end,” indicating the system likely would be back with another proposal next year.

“This was about the students,” she said, explaining the bill was designed to help students who need bachelor of applied science degrees in certain fields but can’t get such programs in Colorado. “Unfortunately it became about institutions.”

Asked if lobbying was a factor in the vote, McCallin said, “Of course it is. There are a lot of them.”

The bill would have given community colleges only a modest opportunity for expansion. It would have allowed them to offer up to seven degree programs in “technical, career and workforce development” programs. House Education amended the bill to specify that only “bachelor’s of applied sciences” degrees could be offered. Creation of such programs would have been subject to approval by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

But opponents of the bill were worried that expansion of community college offerings would put more demand on resources in a system they believe already is underfunded.

Don Elliman, chancellor of the University of Colorado Denver, referred to “the very constrained resources base we have in this state” for colleges and universities.

He and other opposition witnesses also argued that the goals of the bill can be meet with improved coordination between community colleges and universities, and that more study is needed before the mission of community colleges is expanded.

“We can get this done within the system,” Elliman argued.

McCallin countered by noting that community colleges award about 2,700 career and technical two-year degrees a year but that only about 35 students a year transfer to four-year institutions. Credits aren’t transferrable, and many technical programs aren’t offered at universities.

Supporters of the bill argued it’s needed in such fields as dental hygiene, water quality, information technology, construction supervision, mortuary science and multimedia graphic design.

McCallin also dismissed criticisms that the community colleges rushed the bill without appropriate consultation. She said she contacted four-year schools about the plan last October. “I made phone calls to several of the CEOs, several of which were not returned.”

Before the vote, committee members went to some lengths to explain their votes.

Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, sounded a familiar note, complaining that the state’s lack of revenue makes it unwise to add programs. She also took a shot at the higher education system, saying, “It’s a pox on both your house, frankly, because you don’t work together, and I’m sick of it.” Court is a community college instructor.

Committee chair Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, said, “I’m not convinced Senate Bill 13-165 provides the comprehensive solution” needed. “I just think we need a little more time to sort this out.”

The bill had passed the Senate easily.

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