Florida Legislature Seeks To Change Future Of Community Colleges

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The Florida Senate passed a bill Wednesday that refocuses the purpose and direction of the state’s community colleges.

Senate Bill 374, the College Competitiveness Act of 2017, sets the primary missions of community colleges as providing associate of arts degrees and other lower level undergraduate college credit, according to a news release from the Senate President Joe Negron’s office. To accomplish this, the growth of bachelor degree and other upper-level programs at community colleges will be capped.

“With a distinct mission, separate from the role of our K-12 and state university systems, Florida’s community colleges are vital to Florida’s K-20 public education system,” Negron said in the press release.

Sen. Dorothy Hukill, author of the bill, believes that the College Competitiveness Act will allow community colleges to better focus on their main role in Florida’s education system.

“It helps the community colleges with their workforce programs and associate degrees,” Hukill said, “which have been cornerstones to community colleges in Florida.”

The act also requires each Florida community college to establish a 2+2 pathway agreement with a state university. The pathway agreement guarantees that students who complete their associate of arts degree, with other specific requirements, will receive admission into the partnered state university.

“The bill will strengthen the 2+2 program and expand partnerships between community colleges and universities,” Hukill said. “It allows them to transition to a university program after finishing their associates.”

SB 374 also creates the State Board of Community Colleges as a separate entity to the Board of Education. The two boards would be required to coordinate to adopt a K-20 education budget and establish definitions for associate in science degrees and certificates offered by the community colleges.

Hukill believes community colleges need their own board independent of the Board of Education and Board of Governors because of their unique mission of providing lower level post-secondary education.

The act also states that technical centers are to be governed by local school districts and cannot offer college credit. These centers are meant to promote advancement in workplace preparation and economic development, according to the release.

The College Competitiveness Act counters much of a 2008 law, which established a task force to develop a system to introduce bachelor-degree programs to community colleges. It even required five schools to drop “Community” from their names, including what is now known as Santa Fe College in Gainesville. Now, only three of the 28 schools in the Florida College System contain community in their names.

The bill passed with a vote of 36 yeas and two nays. One of the dissenting votes came from Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, who said disallowing community colleges from offering baccalaureate degrees did not make much business sense to him.

On Thursday, the Florida House of Representatives passed SB 374 with a vote of 115-0. The bill will now go to a conference committee composed of members of both the Senate and House. The committee will compose a report to be approved by the Florida Legislature. If the legislature passes it, then it will be sent to Gov. Rick Scott to sign or veto.

“The community colleges have a certain mission,” Hukill said. “I’m hopeful that this bill strengthens that mission.”

About Brett Keeler

Brett Keeler is a senior journalism student at the University of Florida.

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