The Senate panel in charge of education funding voted Wednesday to strip the Florida Board of Education's ability to approve four-year degree programs at state colleges, moving toward the committee chairman's goal of cutting back on "mission creep" at the schools.
The measure, tacked onto one of the legislative session priorities that House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz included in their "work plan," could complicate the future of the original bill (SB 1148), which would reduce the power of state universities to increase tuition without lawmakers' approval.
Schools in the Florida College System, which have traditionally been geared toward two-year degrees, have added dozens of baccalaureate degrees in recent years under the supervision of the state Board of Education. There are now 172 of those programs in Florida, according to Sen. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who sponsored the degree language and chairs the committee that approved it.
Galvano told the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee that lawmakers need to take control of the program to make sure that the colleges aren't competing with the state's 12 universities, which are overseen by the Florida Board of Governors.
"What we are recognizing by this amendment is that it would be appropriate for the Legislature to step back to make sure that we are not running two concurrent, competing systems," he said.
No degrees that are currently offered by the colleges would be affected by the change, Galvano said. Also, the state's so-called 2+2 program, which guarantees students who spend two years at state colleges will be admitted to state universities, would continue.
Concerns about "mission creep" by two-year colleges have been around for years, and Galvano had indicated he wanted to do something about the issue this year.
But college presidents have their own worries about the plan and say they've already taken steps to increase coordination with the university system.
"Our bachelor-degree graduates are specifically in workforce programs trying not to compete with the universities," said Jim Henningsen, president of the College of Central Florida. "Some of those degrees that do compete are ones where our universities have said, that's OK."
Some lawmakers also have concerns about the plan. Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, said his constituents in Key West are 170 miles away from the nearest state university. He also questioned whether the Legislature could move as quickly as the state Board of Education to approve degrees that are needed for local workforce development.
"Why are we moving in that direction and sort of taking it out of the hands of the state board, and really putting it into more of a political framework instead of a practical, need-based framework?" Bullard asked.
The underlying bill, which passed 11-1 after the amendment was added, would decrease the size of tuition increases that universities can institute -- with the approval of the Florida Board of Governors -- to 6 percent, instead of the current 15 percent.
Gov. Rick Scott has indicated he wants to completely repeal the so-called "differential" tuition law, approved in 2009. But Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said Tuesday he believed the differential law should remain, just at a lower level.