State College of Florida officials are keeping a close eye on legislators in Tallahassee, as lawmakers consider a bill that could have a major impact on SCF’s future.
Senate Bill 374, co-sponsored Sen. Bill Galvano, Sen. Dorothy L. Hukill and Sen. Wilton Simpson would limit Florida’s 28 state colleges’ ability to offer baccalaureate degrees. Under the legislation, schools like SCF, which have their roots as community colleges conferring two-year associate’s degrees, could have no more than 8 percent of their student body enrolled in four-year bachelors programs. The law would also make state colleges wait a year before implementing new baccalaureate programs, rather than the 100-day notification period currently required.
SCF offers baccalaureate degrees in nursing, early childhood education, public safety administration, technology management, international business and trade, homeland security, energy technology management and health services administration.
We really don't want anything that would limit our ability to provide a four-year program that will fill an unmet need.
Brian Thomas, the special assistant to the president at SCF
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Currently 5.7 percent of the students at SCF are enrolled in the baccalaureate programs, but Brian Thomas, the special assistant to the president at SCF, said that number is likely to grow as colleges across the state experience a decline in students interested in two-year degrees.
“We really don't want anything that would limit our ability to provide a four-year program that will fill an unmet need,” said Thomas.
Galvano, R-Bradenton, said the intention of the bill is to prevent "mission creep" among the state college system.
"We don't want a situation where community colleges are trying to be universities," he said.
We don't want a situation where community colleges are trying to be universities.
Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton
Galvano said the bill had similar intentions as Senate Bill 2, which adjusts the performance funding system to reward schools based on their four-year graduation rate rather than the six-year graduation rate. Legislators are concerned about the mounting debt students take on as they take longer to graduate.
Galvano hopes SB 374, which was approved unanimously by the Senate Education Committee and is now before the Appropriations Committee, will narrow the state college system's focus, so more students are able to receive an associates degree in two years and then only require two more years at a university to earn a bachelors.
Senate President Joe Negron has made higher education top priority, and he supports the legislation, saying it would help community colleges remain focused on their main priority.
“Florida’s 2+2 college-to-university partnership program has earned a national reputation as a successful model for state systems of higher education,” Negron said, referring to the state’s articulation program where community colleges feed students directly into state universities. “The goal of this legislation is to further elevate Florida’s community colleges through a renewed focus on their core mission.”
The bill does allow colleges to grow beyond 8 percent if certain conditions are met and the college gets legislative permission.
But Thomas said state colleges align their baccalaureate offerings to match local employment demands, and SCF works closely with University of South Florida to ensure they are not overlapping in their offerings and that each institution is meeting its specific mission. And Thomas said the state colleges aim to serve students who can’t pick up and move to a major university but still want to earn their degree.
“Our biggest program is our bachelors of science in nursing,” Thomas said. “What our hospital partners now would tell you is they want more nurses with bachelor degrees. They want more, and we are kind of at the limit of what we can do.”
New College in Sarasota and USF Sarasota-Manatee do not offer nursing programs, so if SCF’s program reaches its cap, the only option for local students who want to earn bachelors in nursing would be to travel an hour north to the USF Tampa campus.
Beth Hagen, the executive director of the Community Colleges Baccalaureate Association, said the law is trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. State colleges already have to get the permission of universities before they introduce a bachelors program, and often the programs a state college wants to offer the universities have no interest in.
When a degree is introduced, the next step is always to go to the local university and ask if they are interested in introducing this degree. Nine times out of 10, (the response) is always ‘You must be joking. We are a research institution, and we don't offer applied dental hygiene, applied vet assistant.’
Beth Hagen, the executive director of the Community Colleges Baccalaureate Association
“When a degree is introduced, the next step is always to go to the local university and ask if they are interested in introducing this degree,” Hagen said. “Nine times out of 10, (the response) is always ‘You must be joking. We are a research institution, and we don't offer applied dental hygiene, applied vet assistant.”