Baccalaureate degree programs at Florida’s community colleges are under examination this year. The schools have been allowed to create advanced programs they say are aimed at meeting local workforce needs. But some lawmakers believe the schools have gone overboard.
Florida State Senator Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) has introduced a proposal that would take the approval of community college baccalaureate degrees away from the state board of education—and give it to the Legislature.
“There has been a mission-creep," Galvano says, "which was initially intentioned to be an add-on to the mission, has now supplanted, in this authors opinion, the core mission.”
The community colleges and supporters of the bachelor’s degree programs argue, despite Galvano’s claims, the programs don’t infringe on those at the traditional four-year schools.
Take for instance Tallahassee Community College, which is planning to offer a nursing program. Its neighbors, Florida A&M University, and Florida State University, both offer the same degrees. This could be considered an example of duplication—except: both FAMU and FSU have voiced support for the TCC program. And Tallahassee Memorial Health Center’s head of nursing Barbara Alford has too. That’s because while FAMU and FSU both produce nurses, Alford says, those grads don’t tend to stay in town:
“Our BSN nurses that come to us from FAMU and FSU typically don’t stay more than two years. They’re not local people.”
TMH faces a constant shortage of undergraduate degree-holding nurses. That’s where community colleges come in.
“When you look at our baccalaureate programs, what you see are degrees that are specifically designed for local workforce needs," says Florida College System Chancellor Randy Hanna.
Community college baccalaureate degree programs only amount to four-percent of students currently enrolled at those schools. Associate’s degree programs and transfers to the state’s public universities remain the biggest draw. The colleges are planning to make their case to lawmakers about why the state board of education should stay in control of baccalaureate degrees. Hanna says community college graduates stay in their communities and have higher earnings than their university graduate counterparts:
“What you also see is, when students graduate from our programs, a very high placement rate and a placement rate with salaries ranging around $45,000 a year--which is higher than the SUS average for bachelor’s degree.”
The community colleges have clashed with public universities offering similar programs, but those fights have largely faded. University system Chancellor Marshall Criser says he embraces competition. But he also notes it may be time for a higher education program review:
“I prefer voluntary, I think we should all come to the table because we think it’s important. And if we don’t demonstrate to our elected officials we’re doing it, and doing it with enthusiasm, I expect them to tell us to do it.”
That program review will come in handy as Florida’s universities begin shifting their focus to graduate and research-level degrees, and more students graduate from high school.
“And so we will be creating demand, not only on the job side, but demand from our students who will want to do something in the learning in their lives," Criser says. "So we have to work together, even though we’re competing with each other...and that’s how you come up with what’s the best for Florida students, and families and taxpayers in general, is when we focus on that kind of conversation.”
Now, new issues are emerging between the public colleges, and independent and private schools located in the same area. Independent College and Universities of Florida President Ed Moore says the private institutions and public colleges used to have partnership programs—but in the past several years, the number of those partnerships has decreased as the colleges offer their own baccalaureate programs. In a statement, Moore says partnerships can be used to meet workforce needs and are much lower in cost to taxpayers than growing new programs.