A Lesson in Education

By Hannah Wallace March 31, 2009

This issue includes a look at the region’s higher education institutions (The List), and it’s a reminder that while Sarasota and Manatee are famous for retirement and tourism, we have more than 22,000 students enrolled in our 13 colleges and universities.

And the offerings are rich and diverse: You can get a top-ranked B.A. degree at New College of Florida, a degree in computer animation from Ringling College of Art and Design, an M.B.A. at USF Sarasota-Manatee, a doctorate in medicine at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and degrees in everything from alternative medicine to aviation management at Everglades University.

As our cover story (Make Way) on Lars Hafner reveals, we may soon have another institution that offers baccalaureate degrees—Manatee Community College. As I write this, Hafner is waiting to hear from the Florida Board of Education about whether his proposal to offer a B.S. in nursing as early as January 2010 will be approved.

If it is, MCC will be the 15th community college out of 28 in Florida to begin offering four-year degrees. The Florida Legislature currently is considering a bill that would change the name of the Florida Community College System to the Florida College System to recognize the expanding mission of community colleges across the state. That mission is somewhat similar to California and New York’s state college systems. Manatee Community College eventually could be Manatee College or Manatee State College or something completely different.

While this sounds like a simple name change, it seems more than that to me. Historically, community colleges were thought of as places of open admission, often providing remedial instruction to students so they could get an A.A. degree and move on to a four-year institution. These new state colleges will continue to do this but now will also offer baccalaureate degrees (not graduate degrees, according to the legislation) in fields that the local community deems important for economic development. This shifts the educational landscape, forcing other four-year institutions to rethink their offerings and giving local students the opportunity to study at a single college that won’t be thought of as “just” a community college.

Michael Brawer, the executive director of the Florida Association of Community Colleges, says he doesn’t think this new type of institution should threaten other four-year colleges. The market, he says, is calling for more students who earn B.A.s in particular fields like nursing and teaching high school science and math. While that’s true, already USF Sarasota-Manatee’s CEO Arthur Guilford has felt the need to alert the board of education that USF also offers a B.S. in nursing.

The bottom line, however, is that more students who want to stay in their own communities will be able to acquire the four-year degrees that will help them get jobs in the local economy. And they will cost less than at one of the state’s universities. For many students, and for the state of Florida, that sounds like smart thinking.

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