Protecting Access to Higher Education

Update as of 4-17-2015:

In today’s Ledger you may have seen an article about it (http://www.theledger.com/article/20150416/POLITICS/150419456?tc=cr)
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While Senate Bill 1252 does appear to have stalled, there is still a possibility that Senator Negron will attempt to get these provisions, or some version, in during the last few weeks of session.
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Polk State has provided a statement to give us an update on where it stands today, in their opinion. It is very important to them, and to the chamber, that the people of our community know that we are all working (and many of you are to0) on trying to ensure a solution is reached. Our Polk County Legislative delegation is very aware of this issue and is supportive of the College.

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For the past few weeks, the Council of Presidents (COP), comprised of the 28 presidents of the Florida College System, has attempted to negotiate with Senator Joe Negron, the legislator who filed the amendment to Senate Bill 1252 which resulted in a cap on enrollment for baccalaureate degrees at state colleges and changes to 17 college names.  While SB 1252 has stalled, COP acknowledged Senator Negron’s concerns and worked diligently to address them.COP believes it has come to consensus on a number of deal points; however, nothing will be finalized until the bill language is reviewed and approved by the COP.  Moreover, nothing will be final until the legislation passes through both the House and Senate.Thursday afternoon, Senator Negron’s office released a statement which proclaimed that a “partnership agreement” had been reached with the Florida College System.  This was premature, as the COP has not been provided with the finalized bill language for review and approval.In addition, Senator Negron’s press release did not mention a number of critical deal points that the COP had agreed to in concept and that would allow Polk State College to maintain and grow baccalaureate enrollment to serve the needs of the community.  These deal points include:·         No name change for any individual colleges – Polk State College will be allowed to keep our name that was selected by our residents, students, staff and community.

·         Baccalaureate Cap and a “Sunset” – Schools with more than 10 percent of total enrollment in their bachelor’s programs may grow enrollment an additional five percent. Those with below 10 percent may grow enrollment an additional seven percent.  The bachelor’s program cap will end after three years. Colleges will have no cap on the growth of their bachelor’s program enrollment after that time.  This will allow Polk State College the opportunity to continue to serve our community with much-needed programs in the short term, and allow us more freedom to grow in the long term.

·         More Rigorous Baccalaureate Review – Notices to the Department of Education to start a new bachelor’s program are extended from 100 days to 120 days, and the State University System and Independent Colleges and Universities will have 90 days to review proposals.  This additional time does not prevent Polk State from being responsive to community needs.

·         Additional Review – Colleges will require one third-party review of the need for a new bachelor’s program.  Polk State College has only entertained bachelor’s degree programs where there is a clear need.

This is a complicated issue that has immense ramifications for Polk State College and the Florida College System as a whole.  We believe that it is important to have a clear understanding of any agreement before making a final decision – especially one that affects our entire county.

We will continue to work on a positive resolution and to vigorously defend your state college as Polk County’s open-access, affordable option for higher education.  We are hopeful that our elected officials will allow the state’s public colleges to continue doing great work on behalf of our students.

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Update as of 4-14-15:

Recently, our membership responded swiftly to a Call to Action to oppose Senate Bill 1252 and protect access to higher education in our community. Your voices were heard, but it still requires vigilance. After our Call to Action, our Senator, Kelli Stargel, filed amendments to address many of the concerns the Polk County community raised but they have not been adopted as of the time of this post. This bill was scheduled for discussion at the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education last Wednesday, 4/8, but was tabled as Senator Stargel was held up at another committee meeting (this is a very typical situation during this time period in legislative session). It is unclear when or if it will be discussed next. With that being said, it is important that we keep our eye on where this bill or conversation goes from here.

Polk State College has provided the Chamber with the following update, which I think summarizes many of the important nuances and discussions that surround this important issue. See below.

UPDATE ON SENATE BILL 1252

Senate Bill 1252 was to be heard by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education on April 8.  It was to be the second committee stop for the bill which was sponsored by Senator Kelli Stargel and later amended by Senator Joe Negron.  The bill was temporarily postponed because Senator Stargel was detained while presenting to another committee – something unfortunate, but not unusual, at this very busy stage in the legislative process.  Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education Chairman Don Gaetz chose to temporarily postpone the bill after hearing that several senators had questions and concerns about the bill.  We believe that your advocacy efforts on behalf of Polk State College, in concert with the efforts of other Florida College System supporters throughout the state, had a significant impact on halting this bill’s momentum.  While SB 1252 has stalled, the issue of an assault on the mission of the state college system still remains.

 Thank you for your continued advocacy for your state college and for Polk County.   We remain steadfast in our commitment to Polk State College’s mission to provide affordable, accessible higher education for our community.  We will, with your help, continue to provide a highly trained workforce to the employers of Polk County.  We do think that it is important to continue to reinforce critical components of our mission, including:

  • There is no “Mission Creep”: Polk State College provides affordable, accessible higher education to Polk County’s citizens.  We provide a supportive educational environment for our large proportion of first-generation-in-college students, and work closely with local businesses and industries to be responsive to workforce needs.  90% percent of our total full-time equivalent enrollment are pursuing associate’s degrees which are, and will continue to be, our primary business.  We provide bachelor’s degrees in direct response to community need – when there isn’t an affordable, accessible, alternate provider.  This remains a small, but vital, part of our education and training offerings.
  • We are a critical player in boosting educational attainment in Polk County: Polk County lags way behind the state and nation when it comes to bachelor’s degree attainment, with only 18.1% of our residents holding a four-year degree or higher, compared to 26.4% in Florida and 30% in the U.S.  Polk State College plays a major role in improving this statistic.  Our upper-division students are not your “typical undergrads.” On average, they are 33 years old. More than 95% live right here in Polk County, and approximately 40% work full time. The vast majority of these students are participating in a 2+2 arrangement with Polk State, having already completed their associate’s degrees with us. Our baccalaureate students are breadwinners and heads of households. They are place-bound by work, family and other circumstances and very often Polk State is their only convenient, accessible, affordable option for completing a bachelor’s degree.
  • We are critical players in Polk County’s economic success: The state does not place limits on our community’s economic development efforts, therefore it should not place limits on Polk State College’s ability to support those efforts. Employers think in terms of days and weeks, and rely on Polk State to quickly respond to workforce needs. By instituting lengthy approval processes or arbitrary restrictions on enrollment, lawmakers would take away Polk State’s flexibility in responding to employers’ needs and would negatively affect Polk County’s economic growth.

For 50 years, Polk State College has served, exclusively and proudly, the people of Polk County. Our sole mission has been to offer the education that our students, our industry partners and our community need.  We will continue to vigorously promote and protect our mission of access and affordability.  Polk State College and Polk County are inextricably connected, with the success of our institution heavily dependent upon the success of our citizens and businesses.  We are, and always will be, your state college.

We urge you to continue to oppose any legislation that would adversely affect Polk State’s core mission to provide affordable, accessible higher education for Polk County and its citizens.

 

 

 

 

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