February 5, 2023

Tallahassee Trend

An ax to grind with state colleges

Why does Senate President Joe Negron have it in for the state's community colleges?

Jason Garcia | 7/26/2017

Butting heads

Sherry Plymale Former FAU board of trustee member Sherry Plymale: State colleges risk de-emphasizing the 2+2 program, which provides more than half of all new enrollees in state universities.

Publicly, representatives for both IRSC and FAU say they have a solid alliance. “Our relationship has never, ever been stronger,” says IRSC President Ed Massey.

Privately, people at both schools acknowledge that IRSC’s growth strained that relationship. “There was always that little bit of animosity in the background,” says a former administrator at one of the schools. “There was tension,” says a current board member from the other school.

In 2012, about five years after Indian River began offering bachelor’s degrees, FAU pulled out of a campus the two had shared in Port St. Lucie, citing dwindling enrollment. FAU, which was dealing with budget cuts at the time, said the decision was primarily a financial one. But Sherry Plymale, a Republican activist on the Treasure Coast who served on FAU’s board of trustees from 2001 to 2013, says IRSC’s move into four-year degrees contributed to FAU’s decision to leave. “That whole beginning of the baccalaureates did nothing to help FAU stay there,” she says.

Plymale, once a top aide to former FAU President Frank Brogan, says she is concerned that as community colleges add more bachelor’s programs, they risk de-emphasizing the state’s 2+2 system. She has spoken about her concerns over the years with Negron. Plymale managed Negron’s campaign when he was first elected to the House in 2000; last year, Negron chose Plymale as one of his nine appointees to the Constitution Revision Commission, which will recommend constitutional amendments for the 2018 ballot. (Among the ideas Plymale says she might pitch: Bringing state colleges under the control of the Board of Governors, which runs the university system.)

Like Plymale, Negron says he disagrees with the path Indian River State College has taken. “I think it would have been better for Indian River State College to have partnered with FAU on some of the bachelor’s degrees rather than doing them unilaterally,” Negron says.

But the Senate president also says his views on the Florida College System have not been shaped by any one person or dispute. “Believe it or not, legislators actually have their own ideas,” he says.

Florida Trend South Florida Editor Mike Vogel contributed to this report.

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