College Officials Say Sen. Negron's Negotiations Don't Make The Grade

Apr 17, 2015

“Mission Creep” is a term used to describe the increase in community colleges offering four-year degrees. Critics say the idea started innocently but has grown out of control. Now, as Matthew Seeger reports, a deal between lawmakers and the colleges may be close.

Credit Florida Senate

After years of fighting over proliferation of four year programs and name changes to Florida community colleges, Sen. Joe Negron (R- Stuart) says he’s successfully brokered a deal between the Florida College System and the legislature.

The deal re-assigns baccalaureate programs to a secondary priority, and allows a moratorium on the creation of those programs to expire as scheduled.

But State College of Florida president Carol Probstfeld doesn’t sound like she’s been wooed by the deal. She resents the insinuation that the four year programs are a bad thing and says that Negron surprised her with a proposal in a press release he had sent out that would still limit the four year programs that colleges can create.

“The Florida College System has been offering baccalaureate degrees for almost 10 years, and during that time, we’ve been responsive to our local workforce needs, and those programs have grown over a period of time,”’ Probstfeld says.

Probstfeld says that schools were responding to the needs of their communities, creating as many options for higher education as they needed to. In fact, it’s part of their mission statement.

“We felt that the restrictions being placed on our ability to be responsive to those needs were inconsistent with the economic development efforts that our EDCs and chambers are engaged in on a daily basis,” Probstfeld says.

But senators like Negron didn’t see it that way. A year ago, he pushed to have a year-long moratorium instated. The argument was, while all of these new programs were being created, schools were also changing their names from “Community college” to “state college,” and some of these names were dangerously close to existing schools. Even Probstfeld’s school went from Manatee Community College to State College of Florida.

Under Negron’s plan, schools can keep their names, but the Florida College System reverts back to the “Florida Community College System.”

The moratorium Negron supported came in the form of a bill from fellow republican senator, Sen. Bill Galvano (R- Bradenton), who was uncomfortable with all this new education.

“There has been a mission creep originally intended to be an add-on to the mission, has now supplanted in this sponsor’s opinion—the core mission," Galvano said.

That moratorium expires in May. The amendment mentioned earlier, the one that annoyed Probstfeld? It came attached to a bill from Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland). Community colleges would still have to justify new four-year degree programs and submit their proposals to nearby universities, as is current law.

Probstfeld makes it clear she’s not content with the deal, but with the legislative session ending in a fortnight, she may have to shake hands either way.

Correction/Clarification: This article has been amended to reflect that Negron's compromise came in the form of a press release, and not an amendment. Also, a clarification has been made to reflect that the approval process for new four-year degree programs at community colleges remains largely the same.