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Senate looks to revamp state college system

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida state colleges would be placed under a separate 13-member governing board and face new restrictions on offering baccalaureate degrees under a Senate bill filed Thursday.

Senate Education Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, is sponsoring the "College Competitiveness Act of 2017." The measure (SB 374) would place Florida's 28 state colleges, which are now under the Florida Board of Education, under a newly created State Board of Community Colleges.

The board members, who would be appointed by the governor, would include 12 appointees, with at least one a state-college student, and the commissioner of education. Members would serve four-year terms.

The board would operate similarly to the Board of Governors that oversees Florida's 12 state universities. It would also appoint a chancellor to oversee the newly renamed Florida Community College System, which is now known as the Florida College System.

The legislation is part of the Senate's "excellence in higher education" agenda, which is a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who has raised concerns about duplication and coordination among state colleges, state universities and technical schools.

"Community colleges are vital to Florida's K-20 public education system," Negron said. "With a distinct mission, separate from the role of our K-12 and state university systems, our nationally recognized community colleges deserve their own coordinating board to advocate for the success of the system."

The legislation also would make clear that four-year or baccalaureate degree programs "are a secondary and not a primary role" of the community college system, focusing the schools on two-year or associate degree programs.

The bill would limit the growth of baccalaureate degrees by imposing a cap, between 2 percent and 4 percent, based on the number of students enrolled in upper-level classes at each school.

The legislation would also subject baccalaureate degree programs to an annual review by the Board of Community Colleges, and programs could be modified or terminated if they are not in line with compliance or need standards. 

Another provision is focused on technical centers run by local school districts and would prohibit those schools from offering college courses or credits, associate degrees or baccalaureate degrees.

"By clarifying the distinct roles and responsibilities of our state universities, community colleges and technical centers, we can elevate each component of our higher education system with strategic policy enhancements and funding investments that promote economic growth," said Senate Higher Education Appropriations Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who is a co-sponsor along with Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.

The 254-page bill does not contain a provision that some college advocates had feared: a requirement that the schools stop using the term "state college" in their names.

In 2015, Negron advanced a proposal that would have required a majority of the 28 schools to change their names, arguing the schools are regional institutions and not statewide entities.

 Hukill's bill only would change the overall system name, rebranding it as a "community college" system, rather than a "state college" organization.