Looming Cuts to Florida Colleges Will Have Substantial Long-Lasting Impact
As our state lawmakers move toward a final budget, it appears that the students we serve will be affected by base budget cuts to all 28 state and community colleges. The state universities will see a significant funding increase which will benefit degree programs and students at those institutions, but not at the state or community college in your town. The increase to Bright Futures Scholarship awards is welcome, and the 10% of Bright Futures students who attend a state or community college will benefit from that.
The $30.2 million in permanent funding reduction to the Florida College System, will impact your college in many ways. The range of reductions is between $190,000 at our smallest institution to over $4.6 million at our largest with the average a little under $1.1 million. Each of our 28 colleges will receive a permanent base funding cut.
800,000 students including 65% of college-bound high school students begin their 2+2 college pathway to those universities through a state or community college. They comprise 51% of the junior and senior university enrollments after earning an associate in arts degree. Add in our comprehensive workforce program certificates and associate in science degrees, and it is apparent we provide the engine for workforce and economic development statewide. Yet, the Florida College System, considered universally as the best in the nation, and its 28 institutions will not share in the overall investment in Florida higher education.
These reductions will have a lasting impact on local communities and students, and could take years to restore. Some colleges report that they will be less able to respond to local and regional needs with affordable workforce programs. Others indicate they will have to reduce courses and offer hundreds of fewer sections, delivered by trimmed down faculty staffing. This will create crowded classrooms, and less flexibility for access to courses by working adults. Our nursing programs, and many other workforce programs, could be forced to limit admissions. And, we lead the state in providing healthcare professionals.
For example, services that help students graduate on time such as advising, tutoring, and student development support could be affected by fewer dollars.
We are committed to these critical services which help ensure the most efficient completion and academic success for any student but it will present a challenge. With over 40% of high school students still coming to us and needing help with math skills to succeed in college algebra and more than 25% in need of support in reading and writing to succeed in college English and class writing assignments, our academic support systems will be stretched.
Moreover, the assumption that remediation is only needed for students coming to college unprepared out of high school is false. Yet, these cuts focused on developmental education are based on a decline in enrollment. This is true because a few years ago colleges were asked to stop offering standalone remedial classes. We did but those students still come to us and still have needs for advisement, tutoring and other programs.
At each of our 28 colleges there are students who require academic support. For the single moms and dads, returning veterans, students with disabilities, and displaced workers, your local college has always been there to help them succeed, regardless of their circumstances. The impact of this cut will be long term and Florida will drop within the nation in our ability to serve and produce bright, academically prepared, workforce-ready professionals. Instead of continuing to improve academic success and completion, our energy will now be focused on minimizing the damage to our student programs and services.
If the state and community colleges are the pathway to universities, why would the Legislature negatively impact the pipeline? Universities are allocated $70.5 million for the Universities World Class Faculty and Scholar Program, yet the colleges may well lose high impact and quality faculty.
The three levels, K-12, colleges and universities, are interdependent and critical for Florida’s success in a global, workforce marketplace. Funding increases should be balanced across all three sectors. Our colleges’ collective vision and more importantly our responsibility is to serve your community, your workforce, and your local employers. The budget cuts will make it extremely difficult to fulfill that responsibility, and will come at the expense of your students, young and old, and your community. Ask your college how the cuts will impact it.
Michael P. Brawer is the CEO and executive director of the Association of Florida Colleges, with a membership of 7520 employees of Florida’s 28 public state and community colleges.