BY MARGIE MENZEL
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
Florida’s 28 state and community colleges say they have a plan to make the state the first in the country to reach the national goal of doubling graduation rates by the year 2020 – and they think Gov. Rick Scott will back their plan.
Valencia College President Sandy Shugart on Tuesday told the Florida Board of Education to expect a proposal in the fall. If approved, Shugart said, the four-year strategic plan also would make Florida the top-ranked college system for affordability, job placement, accountability and partnerships with high schools and universities.
Requesting large increase
The Florida College System, which formerly was the community college system, will request a 35 percent increase in state funding to reach those goals, but both Shugart and St. Petersburg College President Bill Law said they thought Scott would approve, since their plan had sprung from discussions with him. Shugart said the colleges also could make Florida first in affordability by tying tuition hikes to rises in the cost of living.
According to the Florida College System, the cost of graduating after four years at a university is $39,095. Graduating from a four-year college costs $23,647, while graduating after two years in college followed by two at a university costs $31,061.
Last month, Florida’s public universities got permission to raise tuition from 9 to 15 percent, depending on the school. Board of Education member Roberto Martinez said the colleges should get more state funding because they’re cost-effective.
“Imagine how much more value we would be delivering if we were to better fund it,” Martinez said. “I think that we need to provide more funding. If we’re not going to do the tuition increase, it’s got to come from somewhere.”
Florida colleges already are performing well, according to the Southern Regional Education Board, which reported in May that Florida had the highest three-year graduation rate in the southeastern U.S. at 35.5 percent. The SREB average was 18.4 percent. State tuition, meanwhile, was second-lowest in the region at $2,235.
Law, however, warned that the colleges can’t operate in a vacuum, and said the state “won’t get healthy until the universities get healthy. We cannot have a state that is not functioning at a much higher level in university education.
“But right now it’s our time to argue our case,” he said.