As state universities heighten their acceptance requirements, state and community colleges have become more financially and educationally feasible for many students.
Tom Furlong, former senior vice president for baccalaureate programs for St. Petersburg College (SPC), said the Higher Education Coordinating Council (HECC), an advisory body appointed by the Florida Senate president and speaker of the house, held its first meeting last week to discuss Florida’s education systems.
The Florida Legislature created the body this year to address issues like university enrollment. Universities are reaching a maximum capacity of students, yet have a shortage of teachers, Furlong said.
One solution the HECC proposed to address the asymmetry in universities is to provide more options for students seeking post-secondary education, he said.
USF’s Dean of Undergraduate Studies Robert Sullins said four-year colleges are more accessible to students who are seeking their bachelor’s degree and are not as selective as universities.
“(Universities are) getting more selective in order to get in, and that’s why there is an increasing need for these options,” he said. “We’re not getting more selective because (state colleges are) there. They’re there because we’re getting more selective.”
Sullins said it is becoming harder for students to transfer to a university program after going through a community college system, partly because of their geographic locations, which hinder access to degrees in many areas.
There are only four universities in north Florida, three on the west coast, three on the east coast and one in central Florida, he said.
State colleges have shadowed university locations, but in higher numbers. In north Florida there are eight state colleges, six on the east coast, three on the west coast, and one in Central Florida.
In addition, Florida universities tend to be expensive and emphasize research degrees while colleges offer more courses and less research, he said.
“(USF’s) tuition is based on a model that funds research facilities,” Sullins said. “That assumes that faculty teaches less and does more research, and that makes the instruction more expensive.”
Because they offer specialized areas of focus, the tuition and state funding for in-state colleges are lower than in universities but higher than community colleges.
Furlong said tuition in upper-level courses at SPC is 30 percent less than at USF. A Florida resident at USF pays $136.36 per credit hour, while a non-Florida resident pays $574.56 per credit hour. At SPC, in-state tuition per credit hour costs $101.73, while out-of-state tuition per credit hour costs $391.94.
Despite differences in funding and course material, Sullins said no Florida institutions rank in the “middle tier,” which represents the bottom 25 percent of schools in the nation, according to a story published in The Oracle in August.
Furlong said USF’s St. Petersburg and Tampa campuses work with students from SPC to help them transition into their graduate programs, an act Sullins said does not impede the reputation of the University.
“The thousands of students we get, the relatively few students who would be in those programs would not in any way hinder our success at all, and (the college) might accommodate students we might turn down,” he said.