Ed Board Approves New Degree Programs Amidst Growing Senate Concern

Mar 18, 2014

The state Board of Education has approved several new bachelor’s degree programs at what were formerly known as community colleges. The approval comes as some lawmakers look to restrict the board’s authority to approve those programs.

Florida College System Chancellor Randy Hanna took pains to outline the process community and state colleges go through when considering a new baccalaureate program. He told the state board of education Tuesday how the colleges go about applying for new four-year programs. It starts with a study on local workforce needs to see whether a program is necessary, and goes from there.

“They submit a letter of intent. The letter of intent is then sent to all the universities and colleges in the area, and they are given the opportunity to submit an alternate proposal," Hanna told the state Board of Education.

One by one, the  board approved each of the three requests for bachelor’s degree programs before it. Eastern Florida State College, Florida Gateway College and Santa Fe College proposals for new baccalaureate programs were also approved.

The state Board of Education has never rejected a community or state college’s bid for a new baccalaureate program, and in the past eight years, about 100 new bachelor’s degree programs have sprung up at the schools. But the proliferation of the programs has frustrated some lawmakers like Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton), who has opened the door to blocking the state board from approving bachelor’s degrees.

Galvano says he’s worried community and state colleges overstepping their bounds and becoming too focused on baccalaureate programs when they were created to produce Associate degrees and prepare students to transfer into the state’s universities. That echoes an earlier call by Republican Sen. Joe Negron who first raised the issue, and they’re not the only Senators who feel that way:

“I think it’s possible that we’ve had some mission creep beyond that," says Senate President Don Gaetz. “We’ve had some community colleges who become state colleges which offer degree programs that seem to them a good idea, and maybe are a good idea but may not be as tightly lashed to the economic needs and job market needs of the region as the architects of the four-year degrees of community colleges had envisioned.”

Gaetz says that sort of review should also extend to Florida’s public universities as well.

"By the same token, it’s very important we look at universities and ask the question, are we getting as much value out of these great institutions that we can get?” he says.

The colleges say baccalaureate degrees only make up about 4 percent of their total enrollment and that their overall mission remains focused on associate degrees and getting students to transfer into the universities.

Through a spokesman, House Speaker Will Weatherford says he’ll take a look at whatever the Senate sends over. But there is no comparable language in the House.