by Kathleen Haughney
The News Service of Florida
Florida politicians and business leaders have been tying the recovery of the economy to education, pushing for more dollars for colleges and universities and stating the need for the state produce more graduates.
But the push for more degrees has created an odd competition of sorts between the university system and the state colleges over who should be providing bachelor-degree education for Florida students.
This past spring, the Legislature created the Higher Education Coordinating Council to deal with disputes over new degree programs with the overall goal of promoting higher education access in Florida.
“If the university is offering it and a state college is nearby, they should not be offering the same thing,” said state Sen. Evelyn Lynn (R-Ormond Beach), who chairs the Senate’s higher education budget committee. “Where there is a lack of university presence or an area of extreme need in the state, we can talk about a variety of things.”
In 2003, state colleges began to offer baccalaureate degrees. It was just a few at first, but currently 19 colleges offer 121 total programs where students can earn bachelor ‘sdegrees.
Some universities have greeted the change positively, but some university leaders also felt the colleges were infringing on their mission. Some saw programs cropping up at their local community colleges that mirrored university degrees. But the college could offer the degree for cheaper.
At a recent university system Board of Governors meeting, panelists grappled with whether baccalaureate degrees should be completely the province of universities, and several members saying they were concerned about encroaching state colleges.
”In terms of turf, I think we need to keep control,” said board member Norman Tripp.
The majority of baccalaureate degree programs offered at state colleges are in high need areas such as nursing and science. And the colleges still are a major feeder of students to the university system through the 2 + 2 program, which grants students who earn an associates degree acceptance to a state university.
In some cases, the universities and colleges coordinate with each other on new initiatives and programs.
Steven Wallace, president of Florida State College at Jacksonville, told board members that only 1.5 percent of his students are earning bachelor’s degrees. The institution is still mainly used by students seeking associate degrees.
Both Wallace and University of North Florida President John Delaney have discussed all of the college’s programs for baccalaureate degrees over the past few years, he said, and consider the two institutions partners.
Florida State University President Eric Barron said he. too. thinks that Florida State and Tallahassee Community College have a good working relationship.
He is concerned, he said, that the coordinating council could create a system where there is too much regulation and lobbying for certain institutions.
“I think the first step is a lot of conversation,” he said. “I think if we attempt to regulate those relationships ... I think it might actually be harder if we had to go write everything down and create guarantees, because we have good relationships.”
The coordinating council, which includes the university system chancellor, college system chancellor and the education commissioner, meets for the first time in October to start ironing out some of these issues. The group will also have representatives from the private and independent colleges and the business community.
State Education Commissioner Eric Smith said the state has not been able to meet the demand for some degrees, particularly in fields such as science and nursing. The council, he said, will have an important role in working through some of these issues.
He also noted that when new baccalaureate degrees are proposed by state colleges, any disagreements between the universities and colleges are typically brought before the state Board of Education.
“We will not approve programs that haven’t been well vetted,” Smith said.