State Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, is calling for a committee to explore creation of a three-tiered higher educational system that distinguishes among research universities, those focused on baccalaureate and master’s degrees, and junior colleges that offer technical degrees.
“There’s been a lot of criticism of our higher education system, and we want to see if there’s a better way to do it,” Bennett said Tuesday, as his S.B. 1606 hit the bill roster. “I’m interested in trying to see if we can save money.”
Bennett said a potential duplication of missions by State College of Florida and the University of South Florida Sarasota Manatee is the main inspiration for his bill. He pointed to SCF’s growing offerings of four-year degrees, and USF Sarasota Manatee’s focus on “two-year relationships.”
“We’ve got them competing against each other for the same students,” Bennett said. “We want to take a hard look at this before we get into a situation we can’t reverse.”
But representatives of SCF and USF Sarasota-Manatee say Bennett’s bill may duplicate what’s already happening.
Arthur Guilford, regional chancellor for USF’s Sarasota-Manatee campus, and Kathy Walker, spokesperson for SCF, say the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Council already is charged with researching Florida’s higher education system and finding what works best.
Walker also said that even though SCF has added four-year degrees, none of them duplicate what USF is already offering. She said the state Board of Education’s approval of SCF’s new four-year degrees is proof that the two programs are not duplicating each other.
Guilford said even if the two schools are expanding beyond their initial roles, they will remain focused on niches and complement each other.
“State College of Florida will for many, many years still remain primarily a mission to educate associate of science and associate of arts degrees, and hopefully those degrees will come to us as transfer students,” he said. “And despite the fact that we’re slowly going to start admitting lower-degree students, we will remain for many years an institution that accepts upper division students.”
Guilford also said the two schools are collaborating more than Bennett and the general public may know.
He said talks are ongoing between the two schools for SCF’s science courses to serve as “entry into our interdisciplinary program.” The two schools also are meeting regularly to discuss sharing USF’s faculty with SCF.
Christine Hawes, Herald education writer, can be reached at 941-745-7081.