Four-Year Degree Limitation Proposed By State Senator Sparks Debate

By on April 6th, 2015

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is seeking a legal limit on the number of four-year degree programs offered at community colleges in Florida.

After a discussion on the Florida College System (FCS) baccalaureate degrees on March 10, Negron proposed the idea of a limit to the Florida Senate’s Higher Education Committee.

“I don’t think people expected us to have as many baccalaureate programs as we do now,” Negron told the committee.

Valencia College President Sandy Shugart attended the hearing. Shugart thought if regulations were to be implemented, emphasis should be placed on the number of students enrolled in each degree program, not the number of programs.

Ed Bonahue, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Santa Fe College, said they have not launched any bachelor’s program without first seeking the support of the University of Florida.

“Our goal from the outset has been to avoid program duplication and to make our programs complementary, not competitive,” Bonahue said.

Statewide, there has been an increase in the number of students enrolled at community colleges, which are also referred to as state colleges.

According to the Florida Department of Education, for 2013-14, there were 34,528 students enrolled in FCS baccalaureate programs. This is a 13-percent increase from the 2012-13 year, when 30,515 students were enrolled.

Santa Fe’s bachelor’s degrees directly correspond to the economic development of the school’s region, Bonahue said. He added that state colleges are only authorized to offer degrees in fields where the workforce data shows a need for more professionals.

“Whether its front-line technicians or nurses in hospitals who need a bachelor’s degree to move up, our bachelor’s programs typically help our students take the next steps in their careers,” Bonahue said.

Joe Follick, communications director for the Florida College System at the Florida Department of Education, said the most popular bachelor’s degrees at community colleges statewide are nursing, business administration and supervision and management.

Bonahue said a typical student enrolled in the Florida College System is older and enrolled on a part-time basis, compared to the traditionally younger, full-time university student.

UF student Adam Snyder, 21, said some students choose to go to Santa Fe because it’s a feeder school to UF. Prior to attending UF, Snyder received his associate’s degree from Santa Fe.

“I met students during my time at Santa Fe who had money problems, so going to Santa Fe was a lot easier on their financial hardships,” Snyder said.

According to the Florida College System, the average in-state tuition and fees for 30 credits from a public university in 2014 was $6,155, compared to a four-year baccalaureate program at a state college, where the average tuition and fees are $3,585.

According to Bonahue, this is another draw to the community college system in Florida.

Currently there are 175 baccalaureate programs offered through the community college system statewide. Santa Fe College has seven baccalaureate degree programs, Follick said.

Although baccalaureate programs have been generally increasing each year, just under four percent of Santa Fe’s total enrollment is in upper-division courses. It still remains a small portion of their overall programming.

“I think possibly we should look at a cap … since we agree that baccalaureate degrees are a small part of the mission of community state colleges,” Negron said 

Bonahue said he views the mission of community colleges in a different light. He said at the core of the state college system is a philosophy of providing higher education opportunities for everyone.

“In a way, baccalaureate programs at Santa Fe, and elsewhere in the college system, are a natural and sensible extension of that core mission of access,” he said. “The reality is that there are more students—often non-traditional and working students—than our excellent university system can accommodate.”

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