TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A bill that would create a new board to oversee the state college system, place limits on students enrolled in baccalaureate-degree programs and revamp the approval process for four-year degrees at state colleges advanced Wednesday in the Senate.
The Senate Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously approved the bill (SB 374), sponsored by Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, after changing some provisions that haveÂ drawn opposition from the state college advocates.
Subcommittee Chairman Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who is handling the legislation as Hukill recovers from surgery, said Florida has "a very good college system." He said where the system "stands out" and has won national awards is with its ability to graduate students with two-year degrees who then finish four-year degrees at state universities, the so-called "2-plus-2 articulation" system.
But Galvano said that changed 15 years ago when state colleges received approval to start four-year, or baccalaureate, degree programs. In the past, the colleges were known as community colleges.
"What we have seen in recent years, since the authorization of the baccalaureate degrees, is a proliferation of these type of degrees," Galvano said. Senate analysts said 27 of the 28 state colleges offer a total of 179 four-year degrees.
And Galvano said some of those degrees don't seem to be in line with "workforce demands in communities and regions," which was the primary purpose of allowing the schools to have four-year degree programs.
To address that issue, the bill would impose a cap on the baccalaureate degree programs. That has been one of the most controversial issues for state college leaders, who argue the four-year degree programs remain a minor part of their mission and that they are serving more "non-traditional" students, including many part-time students, older students and minority students.
As part of ongoing negotiations about the bill, the Senate panel eased off on the cap somewhat, raising the trigger to limit four-year enrollments when baccalaureate students represent 10 percent of the overall school enrollment, up from an original 8 percent.
The amendment came from Sen. Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who said his analysis showed state colleges were serving critical local workforce needs while not harming university enrollment.
"Our universities are thriving and, frankly, they are packed," Farmer said.
In another adjustment, the Senate subcommittee backed off a "one-year" notice provision that colleges would have to file if they wanted to propose a new baccalaureate program. The amended bill creates a six-month "notice of interest," followed by a "notice of intent" that would have to be filed 100 days before submitting the proposal to the Division of Florida Colleges.
The bill also would rename the college system as the Florida Community College system and create a 13-member State Board of Community Colleges to oversee the 28 schools, similar to the Board of Governors, which oversees the 12 state universities. The state college system previously had a separate oversight board, but it was abolished in 2003 and the colleges were moved under the state Board of Education, which also oversees the K-12 system.
Ann McGee, president of Seminole State College, said the 28 college presidents appreciated the changes the Senate has made in the bill, while suggesting they want to see more modifications.
"The baccalaureates are very important to us," McGee said. "We pledged to work with you as we go forward on this bill because we want to be all about access for our students and success for our students because we know how important that is."
The bill next heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee. A similar bill (HB 929) has not been heard in the House.