Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bills Would Cap Four-Year Degrees at State Colleges

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bills Would Cap Four-Year Degrees at State Colleges

Article excerpt

Byline: Amanda Williamson

Perhaps the decision came when Pedro Gutierrez suffered about a $10,000 monthly pay cut in the aftermath of the housing market crash and filed for bankruptcy.

Or perhaps it came as he battled his toddler in a Ramen noodle slurping contest.

Or maybe Gutierrez decided to go back to school when he realized, even as a former finance manager at a car dealership, he couldn't compete against degree-holding candidates for jobs, not even jobs as basic as a bank teller.

He enrolled in Florida State College at Jacksonville, earned his bachelor's degree and just last month opened his own medical clinic, Health Pro Medical.

Stories like Gutierrez's, however, may become a lot harder to find in the near future.

Companion bills proposed for the current Florida legislative session in both the Senate and the House seek to cap the number of students enrolled in bachelor degree programs at state colleges. The senate bill currently awaits scheduling in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education.

Sponsored by Education Chairwoman Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, the College Competitiveness bill plans to narrow the role of state colleges. If it passes, a community college's primary responsibilities will focus on providing lower-level undergraduate instruction and preparing students for the workforce. Four-year degrees would be labeled as secondary priorities.

This, says a prepared statement issued by Florida Senate President Joe Negron's office, would avoid wasteful duplication of programs offered by state universities, state colleges and technical centers. Additionally, oversight would be given to a 13-member State Board of Community Colleges, which could then alter or discontinue four-year degree programs that do not meet board standards.

Cynthia Bioteau, Florida State College at Jacksonville's president, said such a model would not benefit Jacksonville.

"FSCJ takes our role as a community college very seriously, and we translate that into understanding access to our community is critical," she said. "In many different industry sectors today, baccalaureate degrees are the entry level. So, as we work hand in hand with UNF, not duplicating any baccalaureate degree that they provide, but supplementing baccalaureate degrees that get people directly into the workforce."

The concept of a state college system appeared in Florida in 2007 when a consulting group hired by the Board of Governors recommended its creation as a cost-effective pathway to a bachelor's degree. As it was, the state lacked a growing workforce with four-year degrees - and the state's universities were not providing one.

The Florida legislature passed a bill establishing the state's first college system. It originally authorized nine out of 28 colleges to offer regional and statewide bachelor degrees. …

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