A Florida Senate bill aimed at making what all involved said was a great community college system even better opened a debate Wednesday about how much of the colleges’ missions should be about granting four-year degrees.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education unanimously approved Senate Bill 374 creates a new governing system for the state’s 28 community colleges and sets new rules on how they operate.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Dorothy Hukill, the Port Orange Republican, expressly re-affirms the colleges missions as providing two-year degrees that students can use either as is, or as automatic bridges into one of the state’s 12 universities to complete four-year degrees. In particular, the bill builds on Florida’s highly-praised 2+2 program that requires and fosters partnerships between colleges and universities to make that seamless.

But there is emerging a new mission in the past 15 years that also generally drew across-the-board praise, yet it competes with the 2+2 model. Increasingly, community colleges own four-year programs are attracting students.

The bill – and the committee – seek to put a cap on that, and that drew numerous objections from witnesses, who argued that community colleges are a major source of four-year degrees for older, working, non-traditional students who don’t have the opportunities to move to a university.

“No one is taking back any four year degrees,” said Chairman Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who presented SB 374 in Hukill’s absence Wednesday. “Let’s just make sure we review them properly and keep an eye on it as a Legislature. That’s what we do.”

An amendment from Sen. Gary Farmer, a Democrat from Fort Lauderdale, raised the cap, essentially to 15 percent of all students in a college, unless the college seeks special permission from the Florida Legislature. While critics of the cap applauded that move, they remained concerned about any limits on students’ access to degree programs in the community colleges.

Joanne Bashford, president of Miami Dade College’s InterAmerican Campus, was among several who spoke of how the colleges are providing four-year degrees to non-traditional students, and also serving employers who want or need their employees to get four-year degrees, while still working.

“We help make their dreams come true,” she said.

Overall, the bill creates a new State Board of Community Colleges. The states’ colleges will be moved under that umbrella from being under the State Board of Education.

The only opposition to the bill was voiced by The United Faculty of Florida, the professors’ union. UFF President Jennifer Proffitt argued that the state was unnecessarily adding a new layer of bureaucracy to the community college system.

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