As enrollment outpaces state funding, an estimated 275 potential students had to be turned away this fall by the area's community college.
By AMY WIMMER SCHWARB
Published October 8, 2003
OCALA - Central Florida Community College is among the schools that turned students away this fall because it did not have the money to offer more classes.
Although state law requires community colleges to accept most applicants who have high school diplomas, CFCC officials conservatively estimate that 275 potential students were shut out this fall because the school did not offer enough classes.
Those people were turned away at orientation, which is required for incoming freshmen. CFCC officials emphasize that they cannot estimate how many people tried to register online. The college also discontinued late registration, which usually draws about 100 students, in part because of the full classes.
"I think our community college system really is the best in the country, but I think it's because of the investment that was made 10 years ago, 15 years ago," CFCC president Charles R. Dassance said Tuesday. "Over a period of time, you're going to see that change."
Enrollment is outpacing state funding at Florida's 28 community colleges. The number of Floridians enrolled at community colleges statewide grew 27.5 percent between 2000 and 2003; state funding for the schools grew 1.8 percent during the same period.
The number of students enrolled at CFCC increased 20.6 percent between 1999 and 2003.
"We've had level funding or almost level funding," said Joe Wallace, director of marketing and public relations for CFCC. "That line's just as straight as it can be. That means we've increased by many students, but the state isn't funding them."
CFCC, based in Ocala, has a second campus in Lecanto and also offers classes in Levy County. The Lecanto campus has 1,100 students enrolled, and CFCC officials could not estimate how many of the people turned away had planned to attend classes in Lecanto.
Throughout Florida, about 35,000 students who were expecting to enroll in community colleges this fall were shut out because the schools were too cash-strapped to offer enough classes. CFCC officials said some students turned away this fall will be given priority status to register for the classes they need this spring.
CFCC did not suffer as badly as urban schools like Miami Dade College, where 9,500 potential students were turned away, or St. Petersburg College, which turned away 800 applicants. An estimated 245 students were turned away at nearby Pasco-Hernando Community College.
But even by the most conservative measurements, the state's diminishing support for community colleges has hurt CFCC. State Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, visited the campus Tuesday as part of his statewide tour of Florida's 28 community colleges, 11 universities and several local school districts.
Pruitt, who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, compared the state's treatment of community colleges to a homeowner who doesn't keep up with regular maintenance. A neighbor might drive by every day for a decade and never notice the deterioration, but someone who came back to town after years away would notice.
Pruitt suggested college presidents are holding their programs together "with bailing wire," making cuts while continuing to offer quality programs.
"You can't continue to hemorrhage," Pruitt told CFCC officials, "because there's nowhere to go."