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Community colleges lobby to be able to offer four-year degrees

DETROIT -- Michigan community colleges are challenging four-year universities for the right to offer bachelor's degrees, and if they succeed, would join more than a dozen states across the country that already allow such degrees.

DETROIT -- Michigan community colleges are challenging four-year universities for the right to offer bachelor's degrees, and if they succeed, would join more than a dozen states across the country that already allow such degrees.

The move is being opposed by Michigan's 15 public universities, which says it's a clear case of the colleges overstepping their missions. The bill expected to get a hearing this fall would let community colleges offer some four-year degrees.

"They see it as an invasion of their turf," said Michael Hansen, president of the 28-member Michigan Community College Association. "We're not about taking fish out of their net. We're about growing the net."

President Barack Obama put community colleges front-and-center in his July 14 higher education policy speech at Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich., not far from America's struggling auto capital. Macomb County is Michigan's most populous county without a state university.

Obama announced a $12 billion proposal to increase community college graduates by 5 million by 2020. Community colleges now graduate about 1 million students a year. The president said the nation's economic future depends on building a skilled work force.

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"We will not fill those jobs -- or keep those jobs on our shores -- without the training offered by community colleges," Obama said.

So far, community colleges have won the right to offer four-year degrees in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Hawaii, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia, the Community College Baccalaureate Association says. Legislative efforts to extend the practice could come soon in Arizona and California, said Beth Hagan, executive director of the Fort Myers, Fla.-based group.

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