community

community by Dr. Sanford Shugart
President, Valencia Community College
 Vitae, Summer/Fall ’09

Many of you have been reading about community colleges in Florida adding bachelor’s degrees to their programs, changing their names to “college” or “state college,” and other issues swirling around the future of our system. In the last issue of Vitae, I promised an update on these issues with a focus on Valencia’s direction.

Background

First, it is important to note that Florida is, in fact, under-built for undergraduate education. As far into the future as I can see, the metropolitan areas in central and south Florida will have significantly more demand for freshmen seats than supply. This is a result of improving school performance over the past decade leading to more graduates and an even larger percentage of high school graduates prepared for and seeking admission to college. In addition, the burgeoning regional universities (UCF, USF, FIU) that were nearly open door a decade ago are filled to undergraduate capacity and managing demand as they always have, by raising admissions standards. Thus at UCF, where more than 70 percent of applicants were accepted for admission just 10 years ago, only 45 percent are today. This situation has created very real access challenges in these several metropolitan areas, challenges not seen in the rural areas of North Florida, the Panhandle, or even Southeast Florida.

Meanwhile, the number of Florida community colleges offering a few bachelor’s degrees in occupational areas such as teaching, nursing, and applied technologies has steadily grown since 2000. These programs were intended to meet very specific needs that were unlikely to be met by universities, not to signal a break from the traditional mission and programs of the best community college system in the country; many, however, including me, considered these programs to have been the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent, a “slippery slope” on which “mission drift” would be difficult to manage, a conclusion now hard to avoid.

By last spring, some 14 colleges out of the 28 had either added one or more bachelor’s degrees or signaled their intention to do so, while strange new names were appearing – Daytona State College, Northwest Florida State College, etc. Then, pretty much out of the blue and without consultation with the State Board of Education or the community colleges’ Council of Presidents, a bill appeared in the legislature attempting to break up the system into two tiers comprising 20 or more community colleges and some three to nine “state colleges.”

The bill was full of special interest, some of which you have read in the press, and was deeply divisive within our college system. In the end, some of the worst thinking in the bill was blunted and two task forces were created to recommend further details on the new Florida College System. They met through the year and presented their findings to the legislature at just about the time the issues surrounding the now resigned speaker of the house, the bill’s sponsor, were unraveling.

At present, a bill has been introduced in both the House and the Senate to round out the details of the new system. It is my hope that it will retain the character of our system – one college system, not two; serious governance and oversight of limited bachelor’s degrees by the State Board of Education; one funding formula with bachelor’s degrees funded at no advantage over associate degrees; and serious limits on the percentage of one’s enrollment that can come from the upper-division programming, a way of guarding the core mission of the community college. The next few weeks will tell if the state’s policy leaders can get us back on track.

“The college is what the students experience, no more and no less.”

Valencia’s Future Regarding Bachelor’s Degrees

So what may be in Valencia’s future with regard to bachelor’s degrees? As I have often said to my colleagues around the state and country, “The college is what the students experience, no more and no less.” So we always ask, “What do we want our students to experience?” As access to the freshman class at UCF began to be seriously constrained, especially for place-bound local students, we asked just this question. Our answer was that our first preference for our students was unfettered access to the whole range of established degrees at UCF.  You see, offering degrees of our own would consume all of our discretionary resources for years to come, and even after 10 years might provide only 15 or 20 degree options.

So we opted to push our relationship with UCF, signing an agreement guaranteeing all Valencia graduates with an A.A. degree admission to UCF and calling for UCF to bring dozens of new degree programs to our campuses. We call this program “Direct Connect” and will celebrate a milestone in this partnership this fall by opening a 100,000-square-foot university center on our West Campus to serve upward of 5,000 upper-division and graduate students.

Is this working? Frankly, this may be the most powerful partnership of its kind in the world. Valencia currently has more than 27,000 students in Direct Connect (compared to 2,700 statewide in community college bachelor’s degrees) with rapidly expanding options for bachelor’s degrees in business, accounting, education, nursing, and engineering. In Fall 2010, the upper division of the region’s first architectural design degree will be added exclusively at Valencia in partnership with UCF. And for the first time, Valencia and UCF are working together to generate major philanthropic support to 2+2 scholarships.

Will Valencia ever add its own bachelor’s degrees and change its name? Ever is a long time, and actually our agreement with UCF permits the offering of bachelor’s degrees should a clear need arise. I hope, however, that this would be a very rare occurrence and that any such decision would be made together in the spirit of our deep partnership. Should the state’s naming conventions change, I suppose we’d study the matter to determine, again, what is in the best interest of our students, but personally I’d hate to lose the word “community.”  It says so much about who we are — all of us, including you, our alumni.

(Reprinted from CommunitySummer/Fall 2009 VITAE Magazine Issue 4)

 http://www.valenciacc.edu/alumni/documents/Vitae_Summer-Fall09.pdf

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