2008 Florida Legislature Enhances Access To Higher Education With The New ''Florida College System''


Legislation that provides students in Florida more opportunities to earn college degrees was approved during the 2008 state legislative session and signed by Gov. Charlie Crist at a signing ceremony held June 12 in the Mattie Kelly Fine & Performing Arts Center at the Northwest Florida State College main campus Niceville.

As a result of the new law, nine community colleges, including Okaloosa-Walton, are eligible to expand more easily the number of bachelor's degree programs they offer, allowing more students in Florida to access higher education degrees, especially in academic areas where the demand for educated workers is exceeding the supply. These programs are to be more affordable and cost-effective than those offered at the state university level - a benefit to both the taxpayers and the students.

OWC has offered bachelor's degree programs since 2004 and currently more than 600 students are enrolled the college's baccalaureate degree programs in Project Management and Nursing. As OWC offers more four year degrees in fulfilling its new role as a state college, students will benefit from the opportunity to have accessible, low cost baccalaureate degrees that meet their aspirations as students and meet the needs of higher education in Florida. Two new Bachelor of Science degrees in Teacher Education - Elementary Education and Middle Grades Math and Science Education - begin at OWC in August, 2008. OWC was approved by the Florida Department of Education to develop bachelors degrees in 2003 and was accredited as a level II baccalaureate degree granting institution by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools the same year.

A number of states, including Florida, recently have begun providing options for their community colleges to award baccalaureate degrees for more of their citizens to be able to obtain postsecondary education beyond the associate degree level. Florida's community colleges have been in the forefront of developing baccalaureate degree programs to meet critical regional workforce needs, particularly in teaching, nursing, and applied sciences. However, Florida is still falling short in its production of graduates with bachelor's degrees to fill the state's critical workforce needs.

In 1998, several education reports were published identifying access to baccalaureate degrees in Florida as a significant problem and recognizing Florida's community colleges as a viable solution. In 1999, the Legislature authorized community colleges to seek approval to grant baccalaureate degrees in areas of high demand. In 2001, the Legislature authorized St. Petersburg College to grant baccalaureate degrees in nursing, education, and information technology; and codified a process for community colleges to seek approval by the State Board of Education (SBE) to grant baccalaureate degrees in limited areas. In 2002, the SBE granted such approval to Chipola and Miami-Dade; and in 2003, to Okaloosa-Walton. In 2004, St. Petersburg College awarded the first community college baccalaureate degrees in the state. From 2004 through 2006, this ad hoc process continued, resulting, by Spring 2006, in seven community colleges approved to offer a total of 30 baccalaureate degrees. In 2007, the Pappas Consulting Group published its analysis of the State University System, with recommendations for improvements. The Pappas report noted that Florida has the largest number of community colleges offering baccalaureate degree programs in the country; that the state should place more emphasis on increasing these degrees; and that there are advantages to the community college baccalaureate degree as a way for more students to access higher education in Florida.

NEW LAW - SB 1716 (2008):
Building on the recent history foundation laid out over the past decade, this bill enacts the vision of the 2008 Legislature to provide a new middle-tier system of higher education in Florida that will maximize student access to baccalaureate degrees, respond to community needs for postsecondary education, and provide the degrees that best meet Florida's employment needs.

Florida College System Task Force: The bill creates the Florida College System Task Force, comprised of community college presidents and others with expertise in higher education in Florida, to develop recommendations regarding the criteria for establishing and funding state colleges, including a program approval process for new baccalaureate degree programs, a funding model that ensures cost-effective delivery with substantial savings to the student and the state over the cost of providing degrees at state universities, and identification of geographic and academic areas of need for degree programs.

State College Pilot Project: The bill also creates a State College Pilot Project comprised of nine colleges that represent diverse geographic locations and student populations:

Chipola College, Marianna
Daytona Beach College, Daytona
Edison College, Fort Myers
Indian River College, Fort Pierce
Miami-Dade College, Miami-Dade
Okaloosa-Walton College, Niceville
Polk College, Winter Haven
Santa Fe College, Gainesville
St. Petersburg College, St. Petersburg

These nine colleges, operating as the Pilot Project, will collaborate with the Florida College System Task Force and will make recommendations for a baccalaureate degree program approval process, criteria for transition of an institution from a community college to a state college, and the development of the funding model for the new state colleges.

Florida College System: The collaborative work of the Task Force and the Pilot Project will result in recommendations for implementing the new Florida College System as a permanent part of the state's system of higher education. The Florida College System will enhance access to higher education for Florida's high school graduates, provide the degrees needed by Florida employers, alleviate the pressure on our state university system, and represent cost savings for our students and our taxpayers.

*condense-repost 12/09

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