The Florida Senate is considering a bill that could shift control away from state colleges and cap its ability to expand four-year degree programs.
Florida State College at Jacksonville offers 13 types of four-year degrees. But under a new Senate bill, it might become harder for state colleges to add or expand bachelor's degree programs.
The average age of students who are pursuing bachelor’s degrees at FSCJ is 31. One of those students, Kimmi Walker, 51, a mother of three with a full-time job on top of being a student.
“That’s my life,” Walker said. “I’ve got the kids, I’ve got school and I’ve got work.”
This May she’s expecting to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in supervision and management and a paralegal certification.
She said she relies on accelerated online courses, night classes and the convenience of multiple FSCJ campuses. She’s also paying out of pocket and considers FSCJ courses affordable.
She’s what college spokeswoman Jill Johnson calls a nontraditional student.
“We want to continue to be the community’s college and strive to remain open access so we can meet the needs of all of these students, whether they’re full-time, part-time, looking for a workforce certification,” said Johnson.
The College Competitiveness Bill, sponsored by Senate Education Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, makes it clear that those degrees are a “secondary, not primary role” of the community college system.
The legislation would limit the growth of such degrees by imposing a cap based on the percentage of students enrolled in four-year programs. And FSCJ oversight would be given to a newly created 13-member State Board of Community Colleges appointed by the governor. Johnson says that’s concerning.
“We appreciate and continue to value having local control here through our board of trustees with the assistance that we do receive from the state board of education,” she said. “We don’t really see that a creation of another layer of oversight is necessary. As well as looking at it bringing an additional cost to taxpayers.”
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.
Johnson said it’s too early to tell how much this bill would affect FSCJ.
“We’re going to be diligent and certainly informing our legislators of all of the ramifications that might be against or for the Florida State College of Jacksonville,” she said.
The bill is working through Senate committees ahead of the legislative session in March.
A separate House bill related to state colleges would not create the new board, but it would tie some of the colleges’ funding to the percentage of students who graduate in four years.