Miami Dade College fears a fast-moving higher education bill, up for a vote during this year’s current legislative session in Tallahassee, will harm students and the school’s funding.
“Although most of the bill is good, there [are] a few parts to the bill that will have a drastic effect on everybody on the whole statewide, first-time, full-time college students getting their associate’s in arts degrees,” said David Marin, a college governmental affairs officer. “So if you don’t speak up now, it’s a negative effect for the students that come after you.”
The Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2017 is a priority for Senate President Joe Negron. It passed on the State Senate floor on March 9—only two days after this year’s session kicked-off. But for months, Miami Dade College students and administrators have been raising concerns to amend the bill, which would translate into a rise of the standards, by which the College receives funding.
The Florida legislature funds state colleges based on a performance-metrics system that measures completion and retention rates, continuing education and job placement and entry-level wages.
Reaching the silver standard of the current model, MDC ranks 15th in completion rates for first-time, full-time students, who obtain an associate’s degree within three years of having enrolled at the College. The bill aims to change the time period to two years.
The most recent data from the College, pulled from the 2012-2013 academic year, indicates only 34.5 percent of these students meet that requirement—only a 3.5 percentage increase from the previous year.
Senate Bill 2 requires all 28 state colleges in Florida to meet 50 percent completion rates in this category as part of the excellence standards, which according to the same data, only three have achieved.
Critics argue that this portion of the bill neglects specific obstacles many state college students face when working toward completion of their degree.
“Some students have a full-time job and some of them are also full-time students…and some have children to raise…and they wouldn’t be able to get their associate’s degree within two years. It would be almost impossible,” said Priya Pershadsingh, a North Campus student, who went to Tallahassee to speak in front of the legislature in February.
At MDC the average age of students enrolled in credit programs is 25 years old, and nearly two-thirds attend school part-time. In addition, a quarter of the student body works full-time and two-thirds care for dependents, according to Marin.
However, the bill has some positives too because it augments funding for scholarships aimed for high-achieving students, such as Bright Futures, creates a new scholarship fund for migrant workers and their children and strengthens the 2+2 partnership between state colleges and universities.
It was first introduced by Republican Senator Bill Galvano from Hillsborough and Manatee counties in early January. The bill passed in the Senate 35-1. At the moment, SB 2 sits in the House, where its counterpart HB 3 has failed to move at the same pace.
Marin recommends students reach out to State Representative Bryan Avila, the sponsor of HB 3, who was Student Government president at Wolfson Campus in 2003-2004 and also a former adjunct professor at MDC.
“He’s familiar with the College and the type of students we have, maybe just nicely sending messages like going out to his office, or email or something [explaining] how the students’ normal daily life is and why they might not be able to meet the two-year requirement of graduation,” Marin said.
The concern is about the long-term consequences the new standards may bring.
“Colleges have that ‘open door mandate,’ that we help the community. So it doesn’t matter, as long as you have a high school degree or a GED and a dream for a better life, you can come to the College and make something of yourself, but if the funding starts relying on students graduating, and not every student is the same,” Marin said. “[If the bill becomes law] in the worst case scenario, the College starts denying certain students depending on their grades, like a university can pick and choose, the College may have to start picking and choosing in order to get the students that would pass so the College gets funding.”
If passed, the bill will be enacted starting on July 1.