Michigan’s university leaders’ self-interest is showing, and it isn’t flattering.

We were disappointed — not surprised — by their recent op-ed deriding Northwestern Michigan College and Munson Healthcare officials for their support of a proposal to allow Michigan’s community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in nursing.

That op-ed — penned by Daniel Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities and Robert LeFerve, president of Michigan Colleges and Universities — took the same condescending tone toward community colleges we’ve seen before.

But buried in that condescension is fear. Fear that their association members might lose out on a cash cow they’ve been milking for decades with help of anti-competitive state laws.

Their self-serving arguments against allowing community colleges to offer bachelor’s degree programs in nursing are thinner than the paper they were printed on. They claim allowing schools like Northwestern Michigan College to offer such programs to help nurses in their community attain required educational milestones would be both “mission creep” and fiscally irresponsible.

Those assertions leave us asking why? What could possibly be fiscally irresponsible about a local community college offering nurses in its service area the opportunity to complete their education while working full-time? Do they fear an accredited community college might offer the same quality education closer to home and at a more reasonable price? Is allowing more institutions into the market for somewhat routine bachelor’s programs like nursing really a threat to universities that sit atop of billion dollar endowments, hulking research programs and massive land grants?

The fact is, a bachelor’s degree isn’t what it once was. In the era when lawmakers wrote regulations that prevented community colleges from offering four-year degree programs, such degrees were not a baseline requirement in many workplaces. Today things have changed. A bachelor’s degree is the price of entry in many professions. A bachelor’s degree now occupies space once held by associate degrees.

And there is one thing motivating colleges and universities to maintain their iron grip on the monopoly their legislative influence thus far has preserved: money.

Each college student enrolled at a university is a walking ATM. They barf cash (most of it borrowed) in every direction. Room and board. Tuition. Books. Technology fees. Branded clothing.

Many of them will earn degrees that provide a little leverage into a career. Some won’t.

Maybe that’s why we’re keen on community colleges’ bid to serve those who already are in the midst of a career and simply need to extend their education to advance. It’s an allowance, especially in the case of working nurses, that seems to fit the core mission of our community college system.

After all few could claim with a straight face that student loan debt isn’t a looming fiscal crisis dragging on generations of young Americans.

Bending just a little to serve those who choose to work full-time while continuing their education seems like the least we could do to help our nurses.

After all, nobody should have a monopoly on education.

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