Community colleges already are fulfilling their mission

Nursing students get training at Miami Dade College’ School of Nursing.
Nursing students get training at Miami Dade College’ School of Nursing. mdc.edu/nursing

For more than 75 years, Florida’s community and state colleges have singlehandedly changed the lives of tens of millions of Floridians, opening the door of opportunity through education and preparing students to become the backbone of our state’s workforce.

All 28 institutions of the national model Florida College System (FCS), including our community’s Miami Dade College, have played a crucial role in shaping the state’s economic development. As a hotel industry executive in the South Florida region, I can attest to the immeasurable impact of MDC and colleges like it in some of Florida’s major industries.

Not a day goes by that I do not encounter someone who credits MDC for their professional success. That’s because only these fine institutions provide new generations of students an affordable and high-quality pathway to careers that one day will help them improve the economic future of our state. More than 800,000 people currently are enrolled at our state colleges.

At Florida’s colleges, anyone with the will to work hard and persevere has access to high-quality, affordable academic and career educational programs. The FCS leads the nation in the percentage of students graduating from college, and currently nine out of 10 FCS graduates either are working or continuing their education. And, FCS institutions have accomplished this despite reductions in state funding last year and in prior years, and while not raising tuition.

This proven success, however, may soon be potentially tarnished if some troubling proposals developing in Tallahassee come to fruition. Proposed amendments through the Constitutional Review Commission process —as well as bills in the upcoming 2018 legislative session — threaten to undermine the progress of the FCS, and frankly could jeopardize the hopes and dreams of Floridians who have entrusted our colleges with their professional goals and dreams. It begs the question: What is broken in the Florida College System?

Proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution are calling for the creation of an overarching governing state board for the colleges and the dilution of powers and duties of their local Boards of Trustees. Moreover, two bills being considered in the 2018 legislative session, SB540 and HB831, also propose changing the governance of our state colleges, implementing performance metrics that could adversely affect funding and capping enrollment in critical workforce baccalaureate programs, among other provisions. These proposals could eliminate the one quality that makes our state colleges unique — their ability to respond to the specific, local educational and workforce training needs of individual communities.

Currently, state colleges like MDC have locally based boards comprising professionals and community members appointed by the governor. They volunteer their time, talents and leadership to swiftly respond to the needs of students and the local workforce. These men and women are all community pillars, with the ability to create alliances and generate grassroots support for initiatives that help these institutions operate nimbly and effectively.

Transferring governance to a statewide entity not only will hamper the Colleges’ ability to appropriately serve their local communities, but will significantly impact those students who rely on the FCS for their academic and professional success. By removing the ability of a college to directly listen to, adapt and respond to the needs of its community, the success of our system and its ability to remain relevant are threatened.

The FCS is the highest performing system in the nation, and its success rates of completion and production of certificates and degrees rank in the top tier of all higher education institutions nationwide. Why alter a system that’s been operating so effectively and successfully for decades?

The measures being considered will only add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy at the expense of Florida’s taxpayers and will give a statewide board the power to make blanket decisions without regard for the individual needs of each college.

Instead, we should focus on what really matters — offering every Floridian open access to achieve their dreams through a college education by expanding funding for state colleges. Let’s maintain local governance and impact — it’s why our state has the best college system in America.

Julie Grimes is chair of the Miami Dade College Foundation board of directors.