It’s not often — or not often enough — that common sense and the public good prevail over entrenched interests with the money and clout to lobby lawmakers.
For years, community colleges in Michigan lobbied for the right to grant four-year bachelor’s degrees in selected fields. At the same time, the higher education industry lobbied just as hard — and more successfully — to maintain their monopoly on the four-year degree business.
In 2012, however, common sense and the good of Michigan citizens finally prevailed. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed on to a House bill in December of that year that allowed community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in four fields — maritime technology, culinary studies, cement technology and energy production.
On Monday, two Northwestern Michigan College students became the human embodiment of that wise shift in public policy when they graduated with the first two bachelor’s degrees ever awarded by NMC and, indeed, by any community college in the state.
Nate Lammers and Matthew O’Donnell both received Bachelor of Science degrees in Maritime Technology, and both already have multiple job offers.
They certainly won’t be the last. NMC’s Great Lakes Maritime Academy is one of only six maritime academies in the nation and has about 200 enrolled students. The new accreditation will cut maritime students’ credit requirements from 146 to 120 contact hours, which is going to save those students a lot of money and make the whole process easier.
Grand Traverse residents could save nearly $2,500, while Michigan students from outside Grand Traverse County could save nearly $4,500. For people like Lammers, a St. Joseph native who has accrued almost $60,000 in student debt, that’s important.
The change also means students won’t have to take classes from another institution. Lammers had to take a number of classes, including business classes, through Ferris State University. While any degree program should expose students to a wide variety of experiences, business classes aren’t essential for a ship’s pilot or engineer, the kind of work most of NMC’s future maritime grads will take up.
This is good stuff for NMC, its students and the state’s extensive community college system.
The college’s 200 maritime academy students — and the thousands yet to come — will save money, making a degree more attainable. And community colleges got some long-deserved recognition and respect.
“I think it’s important because it shows community colleges have the quality required to achieve the same accreditation that the university system achieves,” NMC president Tim Nelson said.