October 31, 2014

Higher Education: State Colleges

A Mission Leap for Florida's Colleges

Is the new Florida College System cutting-edge or overreaching?

Cynthia Barnett | 6/28/2011
By the Numbers
> 28 Schools in the former community college system, now known as the Florida College System

> 19 Former community colleges now offering bachelor's degree programs
> 20 Community colleges that have removed "community" from their names
> 887,073 Florida College System enrollment in 2010
That law also created a process for other community colleges to offer bachelor's degrees. A few community colleges such as Miami Dade added programs in high-demand fields -- education, health and technology -- but the schools mostly continued to stress their traditional mission of serving workers and recent high school grads looking for two-year degrees.

The systemwide change in the community colleges' mission came as the result of politics rather than any sort of educational master plan to improve access to college in Florida. In 2008, Senate President Ken Pruitt and president-designate Ray Sansom tried to elevate local colleges in their districts by muscling through the Legislature a new higher-ed tier called state colleges. Some other colleges were appalled; amid a scramble, the idea of the third tier evolved into the Florida College System. Community colleges with open-door policies would remain. But the law allowed all the community colleges to change their names and offer bachelor's degrees, based on need and approval from the Department of Education. So far, 20 of the 28 colleges have removed the "community" from their names. Some call themselves "state colleges," others just "colleges," while others have kept the "community." Will Holcombe, chancellor of the Florida College System, acknowledges the semantics have led to some "tremendous misunderstandings."

Nineteen schools now offer bachelor's degrees. Most new degrees are approved with support from the local university. But the proliferation of four-year programs has led to friction when a university thinks a community college is intruding on its program turf.

Michael Fernandez
Michael Fernanadez chose Miami Dade College over Florida International University for a bachelor's degree because, he says, MDC "had the perfect program" to fit his law-enforcement training goals.
Florida International University is opposing Miami Dade College's bid for a bachelor of science in biological sciences, for example, arguing that FIU has offered the degree for years. FIU says it has long worked with MDC to ensure every student who successfully completes an associate degree can transfer into its program. The degree at MDC "is unneeded, completely duplicative of what is currently offered in Workforce Region 23, and not a wise use of scarce state resources," FIU President Mark Rosenberg wrote this spring in a letter to the Division of Florida Colleges, which must approve new bachelor's degrees.

Tags: Education

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