Illinois senators are for a second time considering whether the state's community colleges should offer four-year nursing degrees. The idea gained sponsors from both parties.
They want to help curb a nursing shortage, but there are other issues that make compelling arguments for this shift.
First, online learning is changing the landscape. The for-profit, online Chamberlain University is drawing 65 percent of Illinois students seeking a bachelor's degree in nursing, which also means it is drawing much of the state's college grant money.
Chamberlain advertises that there is no waiting list. Even if you only want an associate's degree in nursing from Southwestern Illinois College, you cannot get in until 16 months from now and will be competing for one of 80 to 90 spots.
Second, rural students and urban students may not have access to a four-year school or the ability to ask their kids to hold on while they go away for four years. They likely have access to a community college, and the lower costs should allow more students to complete a degree. Allowing more people access and the ability to raise their incomes in a field needing graduates makes sense.
Universities are fighting the proposal, and got Senate Bill 888 killed last year. Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn was a vocal opponent: "We're at a point where we will be changing statutory, operational history and the structure of how Illinois public higher education was envisioned."
SIU has bigger issues to worry about than community colleges taking some nursing students, state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said last year when his bill was killed.
"They're not serving kids in small towns and minority kids who live in urban neighborhoods in Decatur. And there's not a single statistic that the University of Illinois or Southern Illinois University can produce that would prove me wrong," Manar said.
And that's the most compelling reason to make the change: Public higher education needs to serve the public, allowing it to rise economically. That definition of "public" needs to include more than unmarried, recent high school grads.