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State colleges look for funding boost

Funding will help more students graduate on time

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida state colleges are looking for additional money in the next state budget, with college presidents saying the funding would help more students graduate on time and would improve counseling services at the 28 schools.

The request, which was presented Wednesday to the state Board of Education in Orlando, includes $40 million in performance-based funding and $60 million that would be distributed through a funding formula for the colleges.

Timothy Beard, president of Pasco-Hernando State College in New Port Richey, said the Council of Presidents, which represents the academic leaders at each of the state colleges, supports a Department of Education budget request for the system. In addition, the council is requesting $100 million in "new" funding, according to an outline provided to the Board of Education.

Beard said state college presidents are pressing for more funding to address issues such as Gov. Rick Scott's initiatives calling for more students to complete their degrees and for more students to earn bachelor's degrees in four years.

Beard said some of the funding would go toward improving the movement, or articulation, of students from the state college system to state universities, with the goal of earning bachelor's degrees.

The state's "2 plus 2" articulation system guarantees students who graduate with associate degrees, which are normally earned in two years from state colleges, a place in the university system, although not necessarily at the universities students want to attend. State colleges in the past were known as community colleges.

In the 2013-14 academic year, a little less than half, or 25,000, of the 55,000 students who earned associate degrees at the state colleges decided to attend state universities.

Some 27 percent of the associate-degree students graduate within two years of entering the universities, with 68 percent graduating within four years, according to the university system's Board of Governors.

Beard said the additional funding would be used to increase the number of academic advisers and tutors who can help keep students in school and on track for a state university.

"Our institutions are severely understaffed," Beard said.

As of October, a report from the Council of Presidents showed an average of one academic counselor for every 666 students in the college system, compared to a recommended ratio of one counselor for every 400 students.

The state colleges each averaged seven full-time on-campus tutors, with 51 part-time tutors. Twenty-three of the 28 colleges use online tutoring services to supplement the on-campus tutors, the report showed.

Other portions of the funding would help develop science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs that are limited or not available at state colleges or universities, Beard said. He said programs would include biology and ecology technology initiatives, cybersecurity and a "broad range" of health-care initiatives.

Beard said the colleges also need money to offset the costs of career and technical programs, which are being expanded at the colleges but are more expensive than general-education classes.

The state colleges are also anticipating a report from the Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis at Florida State University that will outline high-need jobs in Florida. Beard said the funding would be used to add advisers to help guide students into degrees and programs that could lead to those jobs.

Beard also said the funding increase would be used to improve campus safety and security at the 28 schools.

The state colleges will be among a host of groups seeking funding in the 2017 Legislature, with state analysts already projecting lawmakers will have limited surplus funds for the upcoming state budget, which takes effect July 1. The 2017 session starts in March.