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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

As the greater need for access to higher education becomes more apparent, some lawmakers have come up with a seemingly straightforward solution.

A bill floating around the House that proposes turning some of Florida's 28 community colleges into "state colleges" would help offer students the chance to obtain four-year bachelor's degrees in high-demand industries like nursing and teaching.

It would seek to alleviate some of the burden on state universities who are now feeling the pressure to cut enrollment due to the bleak budget outlook.

We have to admit this plan sounds enticing, but for more than a few reasons, this may not be the solution to the higher education debacle Florida now faces in the immediate future.

The first issue is that the plan would also create an oversight board for community colleges.

Taking away the local control over these colleges would be doing them a great disservice, removing the very reason why these colleges were created: to serve their respective communities.

And did they really already forget the fact that the Senate is pushing through with a dramatic overhaul in the way Florida's state universities are governed in the very same bill?

This suggestion to revamp the community college system is risking the development of yet another costly bureaucracy that will harm an already functioning institution.

Students choose to go to community college for a myriad of reasons that include both cost and convenience, but also a chance to determine what they really want to do, or to learn a useful trade that will enable them to succeed in the local work force upon graduation.

Others complete an associate's degree and move on to determine which state school would be the best fit for their interests. If this current community college system is not broken, we shouldn't be fixing it.

By transforming the state's valuable community colleges into second-tier, bachelor-degree granting institutions just to take the heat off the state universities, it seems like the state would be doing more harm than good and, in a sense, be creating a host of new problems.

By assuming that community colleges would be able to provide the quality of education needed to grant a meaningful bachelor's degree in just a few short years, the legislators are grossly overestimating what it takes to provide a valuable degree experience.

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It comes down to a question of quality over quantity, not simply the opportunity. Can House leaders really ensure that all Florida students have a chance to earn a valued degree by just offering more of them at the community college level?We don't think so.

And we would venture to guess that scores of parents who have prepaid for their child's Florida college education would be less than thrilled at the state suggesting they enroll them at a recently created degree program and try to pass it off as a state university education.

While we recognize the harsh reality of providing higher education to all of Florida's students amid a state budget crisis that reduced state university budgets by more than $100 million this year alone, creating an entirely new system with the knowledge of such budget constraints makes little financial sense.

And though existing state universities will be forced to cut enrollment by thousands of seats in the next few years, the very cause of the problem is the tight budget, not the need for another system.

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