Florida Legislative Session Update (Metrics Made Worse and Attacking Health Care)

Higher Education was at center stage this week in Senate interim committee meetings. The Legislature officially convenes the 2017 Legislative Session on Tuesday, March 7th.

On Monday, February 6, the Senate Education Committee passed SB 374 which has been dubbed the “College Competitiveness Act” by Senate leaders. According to Senate President Joe Negron’s press release, “Senate Bill 374 reinstates a statewide coordinating board for the Florida Community College System, tightens the community college bachelor degree approval process, expands 2+2 college-to-university partnerships, and clarifies responsibilities within Florida’s taxpayer-funded K-20 education system to avoid wasteful duplication of programs offered by state universities, community colleges, and technical centers.”

Clearly, SB 374, deemphasizes four-year programs at current state colleges. The bill would remove state colleges from the oversight of the State Board of Education and put them under a new State Board of Community Colleges. The bill will make 4-year baccalaureate degree programs a “secondary” mission of the colleges. The 254-page bill does not yet have a House companion bill.

Then on Wednesday, February 8, the Senate Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee voted 5-1 to support CS/SB 2 which has been titled the “Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2017.” UFF has serious concerns as did several senators about possible unintended consequences of this legislation. They are as follows:

Metrics dealing with graduation rates will reduce access and not provide the support needed for eventual success.

In 2013, SB 1720 made remediation courses optional at the college level. However, “traditional students who decided not to take developmental or remedial courses, after being advised to do so, were more likely to fail college-level or gateway courses.” Further, “students who start credit-bearing courses without adequate preparation face long odds of graduating” (Inside Higher Ed, 2015). Therefore, the addition of metrics that deal with graduation rates may hinder student access to higher education if colleges have to push through students to meet those metrics.

* Students without the necessary remediation course will have to retake courses which will lead to additional time and costs for the student.

* The need to redo courses lowers retention rates and increases the time of completion, having a negative impact on these metrics.

Changing the graduation rates from 6 years to 4 years for universities will also reduce access for lower-income, minority and non-traditional students. The reduction of time for graduation will force universities to accept only those students who can complete the program in four years. This “cherry picking” will adversely impact the goal of increased access for diverse populations. Universities have already increased requirements for SAT and ACT scores, tests that are known to disadvantage diverse populations. According to an Inside Higher Ed article from 2015, “SAT scores showed continued patterns in which white and Asian students, on average, receive higher scores than do black and Latino students. And, as has been the case for years, students from wealthier families score better than do those from disadvantaged families.”

* Students at urban and regional universities tend to take longer to graduate due to family concerns, the need to work to pay for their education, and a host of other reasons.

Block Tuition could negatively impact lower-income, minority and non-traditional students.

Many students should only take 9 or 12 credit hours to be successful because of work, family and other pressures. Forcing students to pay for 15 hours will adversely affect this population. Additionally, concern was expressed at the meeting by Senator Jeff Clemens (D, Lake Worth) about the impact to higher education funding as no analyses have been made. His effort to amend the bill to add such an analysis was defeated.

Furthermore, UFF believes that changes to the performance funding metrics dealing with graduation rates, excess hours provisions, and changes to the percent-of-normal-time completion rate may limit access to higher education for lower-income, minority and non-traditional students.

SOME LEGISLATIVE BRIEFS

GUNS ON CAMPUS

SB 622 by Senator Greg Steube

Senator Steube has broken down his overall guns legislation into multiple bills. SB 622 is legislation to allow carrying of concealed weapons on college and university campuses. The bill is deceptively titled and at first glance appears to only impact athletic events. But it removes college and university facilities from the list where guns are not permitted.

FEE WAIVERS FOR GRADUATE ASSISTANTS

Partial fee waivers for graduate assistants are scheduled to be part of Governor Scott’s college tuition/fees package. UFF will be seeking to address specific fees for waiver.

UNIVERSITY EMPLOYEES’ HEALTH INSURANCE

PCB HHS 17-01 by the House Health and Human Services Committee has been filed and will be reporting in more detail next week.

WATCH FOR LEGISLATIVE ACTION ALERTS!!