EMU President Susan Martin cites high costs, duplication in testifying against bill on community colleges offering 4-year degrees

by Geoff Larcom, Published January 25, 2012

LANSING – Eastern Michigan University President Susan Martin today sharply criticized a proposed bill that would enable community colleges in Michigan to offer four-year degrees.

Martin, a professor of accounting who's served in a variety of prominent state budget positions, was invited to testify in Lansing before the Senate Education Committee regarding House Bill 4496.

Martin criticized the bill on a variety of fronts. Those included the higher cost to students, the duplication of existing programs that already have highly trained faculty in place, and the fact that Michigan's community colleges and four-year institutions already collaborate through a wide variety of articulation agreements.

Among Martin's specific points:

• Higher cost per degree: Martin said there is no business case outlining how allowing community colleges to offer four-year degrees will produce more degrees in a cost effective manner for the taxpayers of Michigan. In fact, studies have shown that the cost-per-degree at community colleges is already higher than at regional public universities. The key reason is that community colleges have much lower rates of degree completion than public universities.

Martin cited a report issued by the Delta Cost Project, which showed that, in 2008, the cost-per-degree at Michigan's two-year community colleges was $68,867, while the average cost-per-degree at Michigan's regional public four-year universities, such as Eastern, was $57,019.

"This legislation will exacerbate - not mitigate - that gap," Martin said.

Martin said that someone will have to pay these higher costs without any evidence of a return on investment. 

"Who will it be?" she asked. "The students, who will pay even higher tuition?  Property owners, who will be asked by community colleges around the state to pay higher property taxes?  Or will the community colleges come to you (lawmakers) asking for these funds?"

• Collaborate, not duplicate: Martin said the legislation should be rejected because it will result in a duplication of services at a time when Governor Rick Snyder has called on all levels of government - including education - to collaborate, not duplicate.  "This legislation takes us in the opposite direction," Martin said. 

• Articulation agreements: Martin spoke of the many articulation agreements that exist between Michigan's public universities and community colleges. These agreements outline specific courses at the community college that will transfer to the university, thereby ensuring that students understand exactly which courses will transfer so they don't spend time or money taking courses at the community college that will not satisfy their bachelor's degree requirements.

EMU has over 100 such articulation agreements with community colleges that often accept 84 to 92 credits toward a four-year degree.

• On-site programs at community colleges: Martin noted that Eastern already offers a variety of programs on-site at community colleges. For example, Eastern Michigan University offers an RN-to-BSN program at Jackson Community College.

"This collaborative relationship between the universities and community colleges works because it recognizes the strengths of each institution and avoids the costly duplication of programs that has hampered this state," Martin said.

In addition, between 2006 and 2011, the number of students transferring to Eastern from community colleges has increased by 30 percent as students recognize the benefits of beginning their education at a community college and finishing their degree at an accredited public four-year university, Martin said.

In testifying Martin drew on her own background as an accountant and a longtime employee and graduate of Michigan's public universities.

Martin earned a bachelor's degree in public speaking from Central Michigan and an MBA and a doctorate in accounting from Michigan State.  She worked for the Michigan Department of Treasury as an assistant auditor general, a deputy state treasurer, and the commissioner of revenue.  She also taught accounting and served in leadership roles at both Grand Valley State University and U-M Dearborn.

"I provide this background so you can know two things about me," Martin told the committee. "First, I am passionate about public education.  Second, as an accountant, data matter to me ... This legislation lacks a business case, and the data confirm that this legislation will cost taxpayers and students more money, not less, and will take Michigan in the wrong direction – toward duplication instead of collaboration."

A full copy of President Martin's testimony is at http://www.emich.edu/president/communications/20120125_senate.php




Geoff Larcom



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