July 28, 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
Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padrón counters that every MDC bachelor's responds to a specific local workforce need, in this case the biotechnology and biopharmaceutical training needed for employment in the University of Miami's new Life Science and Technology Park.

Padrón also insists that "every single criticism" leveled against community college baccalaureates has been disproven. Anecdotally, graduates' salaries and graduate-program acceptance don't indicate the degrees are "second class." Michael Fernandez, the recent MDC graduate in public safety management, was just accepted to George Washington University's master's program in security and safety leadership.

The job placement rate for MDC's baccalaureate graduates was 94% in 2008-09, compared with 91% for FIU, 86% for the State University System as a whole, and 74% for members of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida. At the same time, the cost of MDC's bachelor's degrees was roughly half that of a public university and a quarter that of a private institution.

Florida College System campuses are clearly still the workhorses of higher education in the state. Enrollment has risen sharply since the start of the recession, with a record 887,073 students last year -- the vast majority in lower-division courses seeking associate's degrees. In fact, a gap is beginning to widen statewide between the number of community college graduates seeking to transfer into state universities and the number of admissions the universities can handle.

Deborah Floyd
Florida's transition to four-year community colleges "is the bellwether," says FAU professor Deborah Floyd, who has written a book about the national trend. [Photo: Scott Wiseman]
Floyd says researchers and policy-makers need more data to be able to assess Florida's experiment. For example, how do Florida's best MBA programs view the business administration and organizational management bachelor's degrees offered at many of Florida's colleges?

Cost also remains a question. Holcombe says the system has been able to offer bachelor's degrees with no additional cost to taxpayers. But another FAU researcher, doctoral candidate Allen Bottorff, who is also assistant dean of facilities at Indian River State College, recently found that state funding isn't keeping up with the cost of the system's baccalaureate degrees. "The funding is coming from somewhere -- the colleges are using other sources," Bottorff says. "We need to find out what those are."

While the system may be in flux, some things haven't changed: Florida still ranks low in producing bachelor's degrees -- 41st in the nation. Says professor Floyd at FAU: "We are not at risk of overeducating Floridians."

James Wattenbarger
The brain behind the creation of the Florida Community College System was a University of Florida professor named James Wattenbarger — himself a graduate of Palm Beach Junior College. Before his death in 2006, he opposed allowing community colleges to grant four-year degrees. Colleges should "stick to what they do best," he wrote. [Photo: University of Florida]

Florida College System - The Top 5, Ranked by Enrollment
Rank Institution Main Campus Location Enrollment
Fall 2010
1 Miami Dade College
Miami 135,148
2 Florida State College at Jacksonville
Jacksonville 84,486
3
Valencia College
Orlando 62,524
4 Broward College
Fort Lauderdale 60,462
5 St. Petersburg College St. Petersburg 55,046

» GET THE FULL LIST:
Florida's College System

Florida Colleges

There are 28 colleges in the Florida College System. A list of all these colleges is available for download in Excel format. The list includes additional data not published in Florida Trend -- including locations, tuition, phone, fax, website, full school address and more. Cost: $19.

For more information, and to find out how to download, click here.

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