Get ready, because I have several questions about our state legislature’s incessant attacks on minority and low-income students in the form of Senate Bill 540 and House Bill 831. Reminiscent of SB374 from the 2017 Session, which was fortunately vetoed by Gov. Scott last year, the ugliness has returned.
The bills presented in the 2018 session are clearly designed to adversely affect the proven success of our renowned Florida College System (FCS) and derail the dreams of so many of our students. Legislators are advocating for changing the governance structure of the FCS, adding a “two-year graduation” performance metric for funding and capping college workforce baccalaureate programs offered by institutions such as Miami Dade College – which awards more degrees to minorities than any other college or university in the country.
FCS is the highest performing system in the nation, ranked in the top tier of all higher education institutions nationwide for its success rates of completion and production of certificates and degrees. And, FCS institutions have accomplished this despite ongoing reductions in state funding – and while not raising tuition.
So, what’s really going on here? Why is the Republican-controlled legislature trying to alter a system that’s been operating so effectively and successfully for decades? Why is it a chief priority the senate president to fix a problem that is not broken?
There is nothing wrong with the system that full funding can’t solve. Still, several lawmakers want to punish community colleges, eliminate local control, and ultimately make it more difficult for our students to succeed.
Could demographics, nationality, or the socio-economic background of the communities served by the FCS have a role in these punitive measures? I know those are tough words, but nothing else makes sense. These colleges offer invaluable and sometimes life-saving opportunities for first-generation, minority, and low-income students.
It’s clear to me our elected officials in the legislature are fixated on negatively impacting the core of our community. And no matter how their public relations machines try to package up what they are doing to colleges like MDC, Broward College, and Palm Beach State College — which enroll about half of all community college students in Florida – it’s not working.
It’s clear, and ugly, and wrong that some elected officials would actively engage in such blatant efforts to harm the future of students who are not only trying to make ends meet, but are seeking a better future for themselves, their families, and our Greater Miami.
I recently read that the three presidents of our community colleges in South Florida agree that their students would be the victims of the “unintended consequences” of this unnecessary overhaul.
Here’s how Senate Bill 540 (SB540) and House Bill 831 (HB831) will work toward dismantling the proven success of the FCS:
- Governance: The bills would change FCS governance from local boards to a statewide board, therefore eliminating each college’s ability to respond to the needs of its community.
- Performance: The bills would add a new performance metric called the “100% graduation rate” that requires students seeking an associate degree to graduate in two years. Florida colleges serve unique populations, and a vast majority study part-time. Only a small percentage of students who attend full-time could meet this measure.
- Enrollment caps: The bills would establish enrollment caps for critical baccalaureate degree programs offered at state colleges. These programs work to meet the demands of the local workforce, and also provide an option for students looking to obtain a college degree closer to home.
It seems that, instead of recognizing the FCS for its accomplishments, our state leaders are trying to fix a system that isn’t broken. It’s time to speak up and tell our elected officials how you really feel. Tell them that the FCS needs more funding to ensure every Floridian can go to college. Tell them that our state has the best college system in America, and that any proposals to diminish the quality of our system should be taken out of the equation.