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Colleges' open doors starting to swing shut
By A TIMES EDITORIAL
Published October 12, 2007
Not many businesses could serve more customers on last year's budget, but that's what Florida community colleges are expected to do. Predictably, the students are the ones who pay the price.
This year, as economic strains grip the state, some 50,000 new students are pouring into the state's 28 community colleges. The problem is that some of the doors will be closed to them. Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, for example, won't be offering some upper-level science courses. Pasco-Hernando Community College is struggling to provide enough remedial courses and has cut back on library hours.
"We don't want to close the open door, because that's our mission," says Pasco-Hernando president Katherine Johnson. "(But) you can only hire so many faculty. We're pretty maxed out as far as our ability to assist students."
As state higher education policy goes, this is criminal. The universities already have been forced to freeze enrollment because of repeated state budget cuts over the past decade. That alone puts more pressure on community colleges, as high school seniors explore their other options. So what happens when the doors to community college are also forced to close? What happens when the nursing student can't get the science course necessary for graduation because it is full?
In cutting college funding this week, lawmakers are blaming economic conditions and the $1.1-billion state budget shortfall. Higher education has been getting what former Gov. Jeb Bush once called budgetary "crumbs" even when times were good. The very formula the Legislature uses, which bases funding on previous years' enrollment, ignores the cyclical nature of community colleges. When the economy is rough, workers often look to improve their skills to qualify for better jobs. They often do so at a community college.
When the open-door institutions are faced with the prospect of closing doors, Florida is shortchanging both its students and its economic future.