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Two higher education bills survive

Bills regarding SPJC and USF's St. Petersburg campus still pass key tests.


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 11, 2001

Bills regarding SPJC and USF's St. Petersburg campus still pass key tests.

TALLAHASSEE -- There were growing signs of trouble Tuesday for several proposals that could shake up the traditional picture of higher education in Florida.

One bill would grant the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus significantly more autonomy. An influential Republican legislator said she fears the change could complicate her party's effort to overhaul Florida's university system.

Another bill would allow St. Petersburg Junior College to become the state's first community college to award undergraduate degrees. Some legislators called the measure unnecessary and an unsettling model for the state's 27 other two-year schools.

Both bills survived their first test Tuesday in the state House. But their eventual fate is uncertain and may stay that way until the final days of the legislation session, when the House and Senate will bargain on their top priorities.

"I have some concerns," state Rep. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, said about the USF-St. Petersburg bill. She heads the powerful House Education Budget Committee, in which the legislation is scheduled to be heard before it can move to the full House.

Among other provisions, the bill would allow USF's St. Petersburg campus to have its own board of trustees, a move Lynn thinks could complicate the effort to revamp higher education in Florida. That plan calls for creating boards of trustees at the 10 state universities, including USF.

Other legislation moving through the state Senate would give similar autonomy to USF's Sarasota-Manatee campus.

Lynn also expressed concerns about a separate bill to make New College, a Sarasota liberal arts program within USF since 1975, Florida's 11th public university. The bill is a top priority of Senate President John McKay.

"I think we need to look at the costs involved," Lynn said. "This might not be the best time (for creating another university)."

Least controversial to her, Lynn said, is the bill to allow SPJC to offer bachelor's degrees in teaching, nursing and technology. The bill is intended to address work-force shortages. But the measure failed to get unanimous approval at its first stop Tuesday, which was before the House Committee on Colleges and Universities. The vote was 8-3 for the bill.

"There are 28 community colleges," said state Rep. Perry McGriff Jr., D-Gainesville, who opposed the bill. "Once you open the door for one, you'll have 27 others coming up here asking for the same thing."

State Rep. Lindsay Harrington, R-Punta Gorda, said there are other ways to accomplish what SPJC wants, including partnering with four-year colleges.

The SPJC legislation had trouble in the Senate last week, though it is moving forward in that chamber.

State Sen. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, raised strong objections to letting two-year schools offer four-year degrees, even within the bill's limits.

He called the idea "mission creep" and said it would make it hard to hold community colleges, and the system as a whole, accountable for performance.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, raised concerns about the impact of SPJC's expansion on Pasco-Hernando Community College. SPJC plans to offer most of its four-year programs on its Tarpon Springs campus, a location that could make it attractive to students who might otherwise have enrolled at PHCC.

SPJC President Carl Kuttler said his school has no interest in raiding PCHH, and has agreed to limit recruitment in Pasco and Hernando to juniors and seniors.

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