Florida State College at Jacksonville President Cynthia Bioteau said a veto this week by Governor Rick Scott is a win for the college, though the Legislature had intended the bill to also permanently expand university scholarships, including Florida’s popular Bright Futures program.
The bill would have capped the percentage of students allowed to pursue four-year degrees at FSCJ.
Earlier this month, Scott spoke highly of state colleges after announcing a special session.
“As you know, I went junior college; my wife went to junior college,” he said. “Our state college system is very important to me.”
That was about a week before he vetoed Senate Bill 374. Scott explained in a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner, the bill would have impeded state colleges’ ability to serve their communities. Bioteau agrees.
“This higher education bill really attempted to deconstruct the mission and purpose of our state colleges as it relates to local responsiveness to our employers, local control from our board of trustees and an understanding of the importance of what a state college is,” Bioteau said.
The bill that passed the Legislature would have made it harder for state colleges to add bachelor's degree programs, and it capped enrollment in those programs. And oversight of the entire state college system would be given to a new board appointed by the governor. The state board would review state colleges annually and could modify or terminate four-year degree programs not in line with compliance or meeting standards.
Bioteau said currently a local board of trustees determines FSCJ’s strategic plan and what degrees should be added or cut. FSCJ offers 14 baccalaureate degrees and 45 associate degrees.
“Our baccalaureate degrees have only been designed when our employers in the community come to us and say, ‘Entry level into our career area is now a bachelors degree,’” she said.
After the veto, Senate President Joe Negron (R-Stuart), who had prioritized the bill, said it would have renewed colleges’ focus on their core missions: associate’s degrees and workforce credentials.
“I fundamentally disagree that SB 374 makes positive changes to our universities at the expense of Florida’s community colleges,” said Negron in a statement. “Like Governor Scott, many members of the Senate attended our state’s community colleges, and we recognize the vital role they play in our public education system.”
The bill would have permanently expanded scholarships, including Bright Futures.
“In fact, the expansion of Bright Futures Scholarships outlined in this legislation will still occur in Fiscal Year 2017-2018,” said Scott of the merit-scholarship program, which under the expansion covers students’ full tuition and provides money for books. The scholarship previously covered partial tuition for high-performing Florida students.
Next year’s budget includes $126 million for an estimated 45,000 Bright Futures scholars, along with $26 million to provide each student with $300 per semester for books, as reported by the News Service of Florida. Scott is urging the Legislature to again pass a recurring expansion at the same level, which was in the vetoed bill.
Another section of the bill would have required universities charge students flat fees per semester instead of charging by the course.