July 30, 2014
Arthur Kirk

Saint Leo University cut its elementary education B.A. program at St. Petersburg College. Saint Leo President Arthur Kirk (above) says: “It’s a delicate subject.”

Photo: St. Leo University

St. Leo psych class

Saint Leo offers a psychology class on the Seminole campus of St. Petersburg College.

Photo: Mark Wemple

Higher Education

Partnership Friction: Private and community colleges offer four-year degrees

Private colleges question the plunge by community colleges into baccalaureate programs.

Mike Vogel | 6/10/2013

In 2001, St. Petersburg Junior College, as the public community college in Pinellas County was then known, won permission to move beyond its traditional two-year degree offerings and confer four-year degrees.

Allowing community colleges to confer four-year degrees would open access to such degrees to more Floridians — especially working adults — and meet employer needs in a convenient and affordable way. Since then, Florida has embraced the concept like no other state in the nation. In Florida, 23 of the 28 institutions in what’s now the state college system can confer baccalaureate degrees; nationally only 31 other colleges do so. In March alone, four colleges won approval from the Florida Board of Education for more four-year programs; the board has now approved 152 degree programs.

Students have flocked to the cheaper programs. More than 19,000 students in Florida (six of the 12 state university institutions have fewer students than that number) are working on a baccalaureate degree that will be conferred by a community or state college.

Baccalaureates account for just 2% of state college degrees, but the share is growing. At Florida State College at Jacksonville, baccalaureate enrollment is growing 22% a year, albeit off a small base. At Broward College, a bachelor’s in supervision and management is one of the top 10 programs by number of students. “Florida’s looked at as one of the bellwether states, and by bellwether I mean trendsetter,” says Dale Campbell, a University of Florida education professor and authority on community colleges.

But a critical voice is emerging against the baccalaureate juggernaut — the state’s private colleges and universities. For years, the private institutions have partnered with community colleges: Accepting community college two-year degree holders into their programs to complete a bachelor’s without losing any credits and offering bachelor’s degrees on community college campuses. Private Flagler College in St. Augustine, for example, offers bachelor’s degrees in business, accounting, elementary education and exceptional education at Tallahassee Community College.

The collaboration “has been highly successful,” says Flagler President William T. Abare Jr. For those students who qualified for the state’s Florida Resident Access Grants — the state gave $2,150 this year to Florida private school students — the cost of a Flagler bachelor’s at Tallahassee worked out to no more than the tuition for another two years of community college. “A terrific deal,” Abare says.

Pros and Cons of Expanded Offerings

» Proponents: Proponents say community college bachelor’s programs widen access to higher ed, are more affordable for students, cheaper for taxpayers, relieve pressure on overburdened public universities and meet employer needs, especially in applied degree fields — specialty jobs that once took only an associate’s degree now require a four-year degree, specialties that universities don’t have experience in or want to invest in offering.

» Opponents: Opponents of four-year degrees say the offerings dilute community colleges’ two-year degree mission, mean higher-cost faculty, labs and libraries and raise issues of quality and outcomes — a community college bachelor’s isn’t cheaper if a student doesn’t complete it in a timely way.

Those partnerships, however, have diminished as community colleges’ own baccalaureate programs have increased, says Ed Moore, president of the Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida. The number of sites where private colleges offer baccalaureates on state college system campuses fell 43% from 2004 to 2011, according to ICUF. “We’re not huge fans,” Moore says.

Private Saint Leo University, for example, ended its elementary education baccalaureate at public St. Petersburg College after St. Petersburg won approval to confer its own degree. Enrollment overall has been reduced across other Saint Leo programs offered at community colleges.

Tags: Education, Higher Education

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