Legislature puts Florida’s stellar public colleges at risk

Diaz Leyva
Diaz Leyva

As we brace ourselves for long-overdue debates on the issues, there is one major issue brewing in Tallahassee that merits little to no debate: the state of affairs of our first-in-the-nation Florida College System (FCS) — particularly our own Miami Dade College — and any proposed change to its governing structure and performance funding measures.

The 28 institutions that make up the FCS are locally based and governed by district boards of trustees with a mission to maximize access for students and to respond to community needs for postsecondary education, including technical and vocational degrees. The Florida College System as a whole, and Miami Dade College specifically, consistently achieve the highest performance ratings and are recognized as national leaders in postsecondary education. These facts signify that a governance change is unwarranted and unsupported by any data-driven metric.

The current structure in place at Miami Dade College and the other FCS institutions grants the local boards of trustees the ability to create policies and programs that diligently and expeditiously respond to the needs specific to the local workforce and business community.

For example, Miami Dade College created the first degree program in the state for data analytics, one of the most in-demand and highest paying positions in the workforce today. In partnership with grants received through the JP Morgan Foundation, Miami Dade College is investing in training and workforce readiness in programs such as logistics and transportation, one of the largest sectors South Florida’s economy. The Idea Center has become a critical component to the start-up and innovation ecosystem in Miami, positioning our city to attract and compete for major tech employers like Amazon HQ2.

Most recently, Miami Dade College received board of trustee approval for a degree in virtual and augmented reality, one of the fastest growing sectors of the tech and innovation economy. The proposed change in governing structure would require a second, statewide oversight authority that would mandate policies from Tallahassee not necessarily consistent with the demands of each distinct region of Florida. In addition to the incremental cost of supporting such a newly created bureaucracy, the additional layer of administration will hamper and delay the implementation of these timely, cutting-edge programs.

Of equal concern is yet another proposed change to the performance funding measures for the Florida College System, which would disproportionately affect Miami Dade College because of its size and the composition of the student population it serves. As an open access institution, Miami Dade College accepts every student, the majority of who work full-time and have families. The most troubling change ties meaningful funding to the number of enrolled full-time students, which is inconsistent with the reality of our community. The proposed change would incentivize poor decision-making: Miami Dade College would be measured on the performance of a small minority of its students, rather than the large majority of students that rely on Miami Dade College to achieve their educational and career goals.

The Florida College System is already No. 1 — what are we trying to fix with these ineffective and costly solutions?

Daniel Diaz Leyva is a member of the Miami Dade College’s board of trustees. Nicholas X. Duran represents District 112 in the Florida House of Representatives.