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Florida Bill Seeks To Reshape State College System

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A Florida Senate bill that could alter public college education funding was introduced on Tuesday, the first day of the state’s 2018 legislative session.

The bill (https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2018/00540), which would place enrollment caps on four-year programs in state colleges, is a new version of another bill that passed last year and was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott. College presidents across the state are raising concerns about some parts of the bill, including the stricter standards it would set for institution funding and the renaming of state colleges as community colleges.

The Senate Education Committee passed the bill, Senate Bill 540, in an 8-2 vote in November. The bill currently awaits consideration in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education, after which it will move to the Committee on Appropriations, according the Florida Senate. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Dorothy Hukill (R-Port Orange).

“A large bill like this may not pass the first time around,” Hukill said. “It is what it is.”

Rep. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives on Tuesday as well.

Hukill said the goal of the bill is to foster the 2+2 program, which provides students to attend two years of college and then move to a university.

A major focus of the bill is to establish a metric that would link college performance funds to the number of full-time students enrolled at each college.

Cynthia Bioteau, the president of the Florida State College at Jacksonville, wrote in an email that the new metric is an issue for her college because the average age for a student at her institution is 28, which means students juggle their part-time studies with full-time jobs, families and other responsibilities.

“A student who is full time one semester may need to shift to part time the next because other aspects of their lives begin to demand greater attention,” Bioteau said.

Hukill said the metric would analyze how much time a student was full time versus part time and only include the student if he or she spent more time as a full-time student. But Bioteau said the real issue is that funding shouldn’t be based on a school’s number of full-time students because in some cases, there aren’t enough of them.

“With such a small number of our students fitting into the full-time category, basing funding solely on them will influence how effectively we can meet the needs of countless others,” Bioteau said.

The bill would also limit the number of four-year degrees offered by state colleges, placing a cap at 20 percent for each school and 10 percent for the entire state.

Based on 2016-2017 data, Santa Fe College had the highest four-year enrollment at 13.9 percent, while the system had roughly a five percent full-time enrollment, Hukill said.

Liam McClay, the assistant to the president for Innovation and Governmental Affairs at Santa Fe College, said despite his institution addressing workforce needs locally, such as jobs needing accounting skills, the cap is not a problem.

“If you’re looking a decade from now or two decades from now, [the cap] could have a negative impact,” he said. “But for now, it’s not something that would stifle our growth or our mission as a college.”

But Jonathan Gueverra, the president of Florida Keys Community College, said the cap restriction is an issue for his college. He said it would prevent his college from fulfilling the increasing need of people in the workforce, especially in the hospitality and marine systems industries.

“SB 540 is a bad idea for FKCC and the FCS (Florida College System),” he said. “Establishing enrollment caps for the colleges’ baccalaureate programs would hurt both our residents and our industries.”

The bill would also create a State Board of Community Colleges, which would consist of 12 citizen board members and the Commissioner of Education. According to the bill, members of the board would be appointed by the governor to create equitable geographic representation.

Another one of the bill’s goals is to increase the restrictions on how colleges use legislative funding, which is exclusively directed toward academic purposes, Hukill said. Currently, colleges are using the funding to pay salaries for staff in Direct Service Organizations.  These use fundraising for additional money for colleges, usually for non-academic purposes such as the construction of housing buildings and the development of athletic programs.

Hukill said this limitation is important to ensure college employees are doing their jobs properly.

“The problem is that when you take people who are hired for one purpose and use them for another, they’ll indirectly change the requirements of their jobs,” she said.

The Council of Presidents wrote in a statement that colleges should be able to decide how to best help their students achieve their goals.

“Mandating what colleges can spend on salaries for staff that raises funds will only be to the detriment of our students and programs,” the statement read.

The Senate bill would also rename the Florida College System to the Florida Community College System.

According to the statement from the Association of Florida Colleges, college leaders believe this inaccurately represents the evolution of the system.

“Our system name change is not different than the many universities across the state and country that evolved from colleges to universities,” the statement read.

Hukill said colleges are not universities because they have different missions despite working as partners. Colleges respond to specific needs in the communities’ workforces, and universities serve a broader function for the state.

“Why wouldn’t the name reflect what they are?” Hukill said. “Bottom line is parents aren’t going to think ‘I’m not going to send my kid to that school because the system is called the Florida Community College System.”

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