BRADENTON — A parade of local police and fire officials, childcare experts, businessmen, and hospital executives Thursday vouched for six new four-year degree programs that State College of Florida hopes to offer.
Officials at a rival, four-year institution in the area, the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, have asserted that all but one of the community college’s proposals duplicate its existing course offerings.
State officials will have to decide the issue.
Thursday was a day to hear from those in the trenches.
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Bradenton Fire Chief Mark Souders said fire service employees once needed only a two-year degree to keep their jobs; but now, “you’ll need a four-year degree to get a job,” he told SCF Manatee-Sarasota Board of Trustees meeting at the Bradenton campus.
Souders went on to say that 500 firefighters in Manatee County are trying to get four-year degrees in the specialized field of public safety, but what they need academically is unavailable here.
“We’re losing them to St. Pete and to private colleges,” he told the board.
Similarly, Deputy Chief W.L. Tokajer, of the Bradenton Police Department, said, “All of our officers are in need of higher education.”
“It’s something we need, and we need it here,” he said, contending the necessary courses currently are only available in places like St. Petersburg, Tampa and Venice.
Also appearing was Manatee County Commission Chair Gwen Brown, who backed SCF’s proposal to add a Bachelor of Science degree in early childhood education.
Brown, who for 28 years led a local Head Start program, said that in the past, those who worked with children up to the age of 3 did not need much education. But with so much new research about how children develop, a four-year degree is essential, she said.
“It’s urgent,” she told the board.
Others who spoke included Michelle Bundy, regional manager for Children First; Steve Simpson. operations officer for Manatee County Emergency Management; Staci Cross, chief technology officer for the City of Bradenton, and Robert P. Garcia, P.E., vice president for business development for Tampa Bay Trane, among others.
USF officials did not attend.
“We do believe there is overlap in five of the six areas proposed, and to a certain extent, there is no current need to have the duplicated programs,” USF Regional Chancellor Arthur Guilford told The Herald Wednesday. USF would prefer to partner on programs it currently offers, with freshmen and sophomores attending SCF and then finishing their last two years at USF, Guilford said.
In recent years, lawmakers have allowed community colleges that formerly offered only two-year degree programs to add four-year baccalaureate programs. Half of the state’s 28 community colleges now either offer them or are in the process of doing so.
“The legislature recognized that economic development needs and the educational needs of place-bound, non-traditional students have increased the demand for local access to baccalaureate degree programs,” explained Deborah Higgins, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education.