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Dr. Carol Probstfeld: College legislation creates harmful restraints on SCF

State College of Florida President Carol Probstfeld in the President's dining room.
State College of Florida President Carol Probstfeld in the President's dining room. ttompkins@bradenton.com

I need to share my concerns over Senate Bill 540/House Bill 831, College Competitiveness Act of 2018. If passed by the legislature and signed into law, this bill will place unnecessary constraints on the state’s most responsive and adaptive educational system. I fully understand the genesis of this legislation, but feel that it attempts to create solutions to perceived problems that do not exist in the Florida College System.

The State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, is one of 28 FCS colleges, locally controlled and purposefully responsive to the workforce development needs of its service area. Our system is regarded as one of the best in the nation. This legislation limits that responsiveness and growth. This bill does not just inhibit the colleges, it negatively impacts our local economies.

The members of the Florida College System are widely diverse in size and each service area has unique employment and educational needs. Local control by a District Board of Trustees ensures each college is focused on meeting those needs. Local governance is a strength of our system and a key to its responsiveness. It is a valid concern that a state board focused solely on the state college system would infringe on local control and attempt to create state-wide solutions to unique, regional issues.

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SCF supports performance measures that provide an equal playing field for the system’s 28 colleges and remain consistent over time. The measures must be reflective of the FCS mission and include thresholds that are reasonable based on system performance.

SCF is deeply committed to our students completing in the shortest time possible with a minimum of debt and ready to transfer or join the workforce. 100 percent-of-normal-time completion is our goal for every student and each program is designed to facilitate this outcome. Reality for a state college student is not always consistent with this goal. Our open-access mission is to serve all students, especially those who attend part-time as they work to pay their tuition and support a family. Measures based on 100 percent-of-normal-time completion are not reflective of our total mission and are not indicative of the support we provide our community.

Prohibiting state colleges from providing personal services to their Direct Support Organizations does not create accountability, it limits the ability of deserving students to attend college. The majority of the funds raised by the SCF Foundation are restricted by the donor, meaning the funds can only be used to address a specific scholarship or program. Without personal services from the college, the Foundation would not be able to maintain the staff and services it provides for the college today. This will negatively impact students in an attempt to create accountability in an already well-functioning organization.

The SCF Foundation provided more than $2.1 million to SCF in FY 2016 for student scholarships, program enhancements and equipment. More than 900 students were able to attend SCF due to Foundation scholarships. The investment SCF makes in its foundation generates a strong return on investment – for the college’s $374,000 investment in foundation operations, the SCF Foundation returns almost $7 million in gifts, revenue and investment appreciations on an annual basis for student scholarships, program enhancements and capital projects at the college.

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State College of Florida President Carol Probstfeld Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

Expanding the timeline for the proposal and approval of Baccalaureate programs inhibits the college’s ability to respond in a timely matter to community needs. The mission of the college is to be rapidly responsive to the workforce needs of the service area. Baccalaureate degree programs are created in response to community needs. The proposed timeline expansion would create a two-year process for program approval.

The existing process for baccalaureate program approval is rigorous and based upon evidence of workforce need. Colleges already thoroughly document the Department of Economic Opportunity’s data, business leader support, and university partner support before a program can be considered by the state board for approval.

Caps on enrollment are counter to our institutional mission of providing open access to affordable, quality higher education. Our baccalaureate students exemplify the non-traditional students that are served by SCF – they are largely place-bound, and but for an affordable baccalaureate option within their community, they would not have the option of advancing their education.

This bill places unnecessary constraints on the state’s most responsive and adaptive educational system. I ask that you consider how this legislation will impact our students and our communities. Please contact me or Brian Thomas if you have any questions or would like to discuss how SCF can best serve our community.

Carol Probstfeld is president of State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota. Email her at presidentsoffice@scf.edu.

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