The Florida College System ranks high among the community colleges in America. Of the 28 colleges in the Florida College System, 14 of them have consistently finished at the top in the nation year after year. There are more than 800,000 students that attend these 28 colleges in Florida, far exceeding the number by as much as three times those attending the 12 public universities. This year, Jackson County’s Chipola College was ranked number one of the 28 colleges in Florida in student performance. That is based on graduation rate, retention rate, job placement, and graduating student salaries.
Senate Bill 540 and its House Bill companion would change the organization’s name from the Florida College System to the Florida Community College System. This is a slap in the face to the Florida College System that offers four-year degrees. The new bill would cap enrollment in these degree programs. Should the bills be successful, they would create a new state board to oversee a new State Community College System. The Senate Bill, sponsored by Senator Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, would take local control away from local Boards of Trustees and give it to a newly formed 13-member State Board of Community College Trustees.
This would diminish the local Board of Trustees’ ability to decide at the local level what is best for students and give it to a new state board in Tallahassee.
In an interview with the TIMES, Senator George Gainer of Panama City said, “I have real concerns about the adverse effects it would have on our community colleges. I will be following these bills very closely.”
Senator Bill Montford, in an interview with the TIMES said, “These bills cause me pause and great concern because of the adverse effect they will have on our local colleges. Why would you change a system that is the best in the United States as it stands now.”
Chipola College President, Dr. Sarah Clemmons is also very concerned about fixing what is not broken: “There is a tremendous amount of talent that we pour into the Florida economy. Several years ago, the Florida legislature started performance funding, based on graduation, retention, and how well colleges performed.”
Clemmons talked about how Chipola and other colleges in the Florida College System are ranked nationwide. Of 28 colleges in the state of Florida, based on student performance, for the last ten years, 14 have been in the top 150 of the nation. Chipola has been nominated every year for the prestigious national Aspen prize.
Clemmons stressed, “What I am documenting is that the Florida College System is one of the top college systems in the country. The state collects data based on graduation rate, job salaries, and job placement and we presently have local control, with local boards of trustees. These local boards are very involved and very engaged in the five-county area. They work with the chambers, the government, the community and help respond to local economic needs and it is working well.”
She stated the baccalaureate degrees at Chipola are pivotal to our area. Chipola offers degrees in nursing, education, and business, “All three of these are critical shortage areas so we are not competing with universities for those majors but these baccalaureate degrees are extremely important for our hospitals, our schools, and our businesses so we can recruit graduates that want to remain in Jackson County. We want them to have that option.”
She reiterated that “Chipola does not want to put a limit on how many people can be accepted into those four year programs. We do not want to turn anyone away from furthering their education.”
Clemmons stated, “Starting the new Community College System in Tallahassee would be very expensive. We are very pleased with the system as it is now. We have excellent degrees, we think we are progressing very well, and we do not want that progress to stop. We are so proud of all the work that we have accomplished and we do not want that to change.”
The TIMES will continue to monitor both the Senate and House Bills and will update our readers as information is available.