TALLAHASSEE Saying they want college students to take classes that will challenge them as they prepare for a career, Florida lawmakers are pushing to change what it takes to earn a diploma.
The sweep of the changes could affect how long it takes college students to graduate and could lead to colleges around the state having different requirements for a degree.
The Florida House on Friday passed a bill (HB 7129) that would allow the University of Florida and Florida State University to require between three and four extra classes for incoming freshmen. First-year students entering the two schools this fall could not use credit they earned in high school in advanced placement classes or other dual enrollment programs to fulfill the requirement.
University presidents say they wanted the change in order to force students to take classes that are designed to change their “critical thinking” skills.
Eric Barron, the FSU president, defended the change by saying there are some skills that students don’t learn in a high school setting even if they take advanced classes.
The House has also given tentative approval to another bill (HB 7135) that would require college students seeking a two-year degree to take a foreign language. The bill would also give colleges wide discretion on which classes are required for a diploma. A similar bill is pending in the Florida Senate.
Under the measure a faculty committee would come up with a list of five courses that every college student would have to take starting in 2014. But the rest of the core “general education” courses in areas such as communications, humanities, social science, math and science would be decided by the institution. The total number of “general education” courses needed for graduation would drop from 36 hours to 30 hours meaning that there would be more of a limit of how much college credit students could likely transfer from high school.
Trevor Packer, a senior vice president with The College Board, the group that runs advanced placement classes, said there’s nothing wrong with universities offering unique classes to students.
“We support universities that want to make sure students have a common experience,” Packer said. But Packer said that students who take advanced placement classes usually succeed once they are in college.
Some legislators, however, question the need to push college students to take specialized classes designed by the university.
Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville and the chairman of the Senate PreK-12 Education Committee, said many students are eager to get into their majors, including those who are seeking degrees in the areas of science, math and engineering.
“Nobody has ever asked me to quote Chaucer in Old English,” said Wise, referring to the famed author of The Canterbury Tales.
The push to remake higher education follows months of debate involving everyone including Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Dean Cannon. Cannon complained at the start of the annual session that Florida was “aggressively racing toward mediocrity” and he charged the House to make changes to the state’s higher education system.
Scott has said he wants more emphasis placed on jobs in the sciences and math that would lead to better paying jobs.
The House and Senate bills dealing with college courses also include requirements that starting in 2013 the state will track employment and earnings of those who graduate from a Florida college. The information will be placed online and middle school and high school principals and teachers will be required to let parents and students know about it.