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By Paul Bradley  /  
2008 June 18 - 12:00 am

JUST IN: Florida Remaking Its Community Colleges

With the stroke of the governor’s pen, nine Florida community colleges have joined a pilot program intended to create a new state college system under which the two-year institutions will offer four-year degrees.

The plan has the potential to fundamentally change public higher education in the state.

At a ceremony at Okaloosa-Walton College, Gov. Charlie Crist signed into law legislation creating the “Florida College System” under which all of the state’s 28 community colleges could eventually offer baccalaureate degrees.

The legislation also sets up the Florida College System Task Force, which will develop recommendations for transitioning Florida’s community colleges to four-year colleges.

Crist and other supporters of the plan said it is a cost-effective plan aimed at increasing the number of degree-holders produced by the Sunshine State.

“Education opens doors to economic opportunity and security, and increasing access to affordable higher education will strengthen Florida’s workforce,” Crist said in a statement. “By creating the Florida College System, we are providing Floridians more opportunities to earn a wide variety of four-year degrees.”

But some community college activists and others question the move, saying the plan could erode the traditional open-access mission of community colleges. They believe it will create a new tier of public education with no strategic connection to Florida’s higher education system, and send tuition at community colleges skyward by allowing community colleges to spend on nonessentials like dormitories.

The move comes at a time when the state is reducing community college spending, The per-student appropriation from $3,793 in 2005-06 to $2,849 this year, a nine-year low.

There is little doubt that Florida needs more people with bachelor’s degrees. According to a 2006 consultant’s study, only about one in five Floridians holds a college degree. The lack of a highly educated workforce harms the state’s economy, the Pappas Consulting Group said.

The Pappas report suggested Florida create a tiered system of higher education, with some institutions concentrating on producing bachelor's degrees and some universities focus on research and graduate programs. But the report recommended that only a small, select group of community colleges join the ranks of institutions in awarding bachelor's degrees. A handful already does so, mostly in areas experiencing labor shortages in fields like teaching and nursing. In 2006-07, community colleges awarded about 569 bachelor’s degrees were awarded.

The Pappas report also said if the state wants to increase the supply of people holding bachelor’s degree, the best approach would be to strengthen the partnerships between universities and community colleges. That would allow graduates of two-year colleges to move on to four-year institutions, the report said. 

 Related Story
See how some Florida Community colleges rank in producing Associate degrees, One-Year and Two-Year Certificates in Community College Weeks annual 100 Top Associate Degree producers Issue.

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