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Education Bill Seeks to Turn Universities into Trade Schools

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Something drastic is about to happen to the Florida educational system.  The purpose of the new proposed Florida Educational Bill is to assist students in moving through degree programs faster. Legislators are attempting to create a completely new approach to post-secondary education by enacting vocational school practices. The revised bill will become law on July 1, 2013 and is expected to pass with little resistance. The reasoning for lack of opposition is because literally no one is reporting on it. If the general public were to hear the details of the bill, I guarantee the outcry would be deafening.

The bill goes after the majority of things students depend on. Financial aid, class choices, and a person’s entire future is in the hands of those who will vote to approve this bill.

Extending Required Hours and Reducing Finical Aid

One change being made is increasing the required hours for completion from 30 credit hours to 36.  Another issue is that all students starting college will be forced to pick a major before beginning classes. While this honestly does not seem to be that big of a deal, the implications of this could, in the long run, potentially harm the way we look at education in Florida.

The bill not only increases required hours, but also cuts out classes that are currently required and seen as excess. The bill gives no detail on which classes will get the axe, but I do know one class St. Petersburg College is considering excluding, American National Government. The class has not officially been cut, but it leaves many questions of what students will miss out on when the state changes what it considers required and non-required classes.

The 36-hour requirement will apply to all students in undergraduate programs, but the interesting part with the new classes is how it relates to the new degree programs being created.

Meta majors and Developmental Education appear to be the future for Florida college students. The definitions of these new curricula are:

“Meta-major” means a collection of programs of study or academic discipline groupings that share common foundational skills.”

“Developmental education” means instruction through which a high school graduate who applies for any college credit program may attain the communication and computation (computer) skills necessary to successfully complete college credit instruction.”

The first thing that needs to be explained is the benefit of the programs for those who take them. It relates back to forcing incoming students to choose a major before signing up for classes. Students who opt for the Developmental Education route will actually benefit from the system more than a regular undergraduate. While Undergraduates will only be able to receive financial aid for a maximum of 8 semesters, those in developmental education will be eligible to receive aid for up to 10 semesters.

Students will feel the need to lean on these programs, because a) 80 percent of students are not confident in what they want to do, b) students have more time to complete a degree, and c) will receive more financial aid by selecting one of these degree programs. In addition, 50 percent of college students end up changing majors at least once, which makes the ultimate goal of moving students through programs quickly somewhat questionable.

On top of that, students will not only see more required classes, but less chances to pass them. The bill goes on to say that students will have one chance to complete a required course before having to pay 100% out of pocket.

This is a problem in a school like St. Petersburg College. These schools were built for flexibility and exploration. These students are some of the vulnerable members of society and need this kind of structure. Life gets in the way of school and the reasons for students dropping a class ranges from homelessness to lack of funding or transportation, or childcare to illness. These are not lazy people, just unfortunate in their luck, and these students are being penalized for it.

While I would love to believe colleges would see the dangers of this bill, they will not have many options but to put them into effect. Schools will feel the pressure to push students into these programs, because nearly all of their funding depends on it. Even if the college feels the program will not be effective, the majority of funding comes from the execution of these programs and the success of students after graduation. This includes: number of students who graduate and/or are employed with industry certificates, average wage of employed graduates, and even the amount of student loan debt compiled.

By not implementing these programs, schools would lose discretionary grants, lottery funds, and competitive grants, along with other forms of state funding.  If, for whatever reason, a university is “unable to comply” with the new regulations, the school will come under scrutiny from the Board of Governors and lose access to the finances.

Another issue with the way the state approached this bill is they seem to assume the only people beginning college are fresh out of high school. Walk into any college classroom and the age range would be from 18 to retired. Higher education is no longer exclusively for the younger generation. People, who are sick of being dependent on social programs and/or horrible, low-paying jobs, are a big part of the population entering college. For many others, who have seen their chosen careers collapse as the economy changes, a second round of college is the only chance to get their feet back under them. These are the last people who should be accelerated through their program of study, but they will be lumped in with the kids who are “dragging their feet.”

The Push for Vocational Schooling

The new framework of the educational bill bases the amount of financial aid a student receives on the amount of time it takes for completion and the actions the student takes after graduation. At the same time, the bill increases the amount of financial aid and completion time a student in Developmental Education or Meta Majors can receive, giving these routes priority over undergrads.

The fact there is such emphasis placed on students who are unprepared for college, should make it obvious where the real problem is. The issue is the educational system students are coming out of. The state is essentially giving up on these students when they walk through the door. They even acknowledge it in a joint proposal sent to the Florida Congress:

“There are few proven postsecondary success strategies for students whose academic skills are below 9th grade level…We encourage the pursuit of instructional models that focus on more contextualized learning; making remediation contemporaneous with placement in shorter, but economically valuable technical certificate or appropriate degree programs”

Not only will poorly educated students be “encouraged” to join these degree programs, they will also be cut off from classes that do not have to do with their specified major:

“Policies and practices must specify limits on credit course enrollment for students indicating the need for preparatory assistance, outline retesting requirements, and identify options for students counseled into adult education as an appropriate placement when such instruction is not provided by the institution.”

In other words, students will be punished for the Florida system failing them.

Giving precedence to one part of education means someone else is going to suffer. There is no detail in the bill about which courses will be given priority or cut, along with what classes will no longer be required. These degree programs will be co-written by representatives and business experts in Florida.

While the state will make the ultimate decision, the council that will advise them brings up the issue of the purpose of higher education. The Higher Education Coordinating Council will serve as an advisory board to the Legislation, State Board of Education, and the Board of Governors. The importance of the Higher Education Coordinating Council is who is on it.

This bill would increase the amount of influence businessmen will have on the education system. The industry influence on the council includes: “[t]he president of Workforce Florida, Inc., or his or her designee”, “[t]he president of Enterprise Florida, Inc., or a designated member of the Stakeholders Council appointed by the president”, and upping the number of representatives of the business community from two to three.

The educational system is about to be altered to cater to the needs of the workforce, not students:

“For purposes of selecting the degree programs that will be given priority in the Complete Florida Degree Program…shall partner with public and private job recruitment and placement agencies and use labor market data and projections, including those identified in the Board of Governors’ Commission on Higher Education Access and Educational Attainment gap analysis, to identify the specific workforce needs and targeted occupations of the state.”

Honestly, what do businessmen know about teaching education? The council that needs to be formed should include a wide array of actual educators. The people who should have the loudest voice in the educational community are the ones being ignored.

Even tuition is not safe from the school determining what is important:

“Subject to the limitations…tuition may be differentiated by degree program as appropriate to the instructional and other costs of the program in accordance with the business plan. Pricing must incorporate innovative approaches that incentivize persistence and completion, including, but not limited to, a fee for assessment, a bundled or all-inclusive rate, and sliding scale features.”

The market constantly changes; the educational system does not.  To attempt to base curriculum on a states’ economics is one of the worst ideas in the world. If education has to adapt to the market, there will never be stability in the system.

The bill goes on to explain how these Meta Majors will turn into bribing and/or bullying programs.

Students have essentially become a dollar amount to their schools. One new program that will be pushed deals with the amount of graduates who gain a technical certificate or new degree. For each student who simply earns one of these degrees, the school will receive $500. For each one of those graduates who is employed in their industry (which includes quite a few terms and conditions), the school will receive another $500.  Each institute can collect up to $15 million annually from this incentive program.

Each new student is a chance for a university to collect another $1000. With students being forced to pick a major, there is a good chance confused students will feel there are no other options than to select a Meta Major. Like I previously quoted, students who lack a decent education will be pushed into “technical certificate or appropriate degree programs”.

This whole bill appears to be emphasizing the structure of vocational schools. These types of schools are meant to pump out workers. All financial aid goes towards career goals, rather than allowing exploration.  This bill is effectively turning our colleges into assembly lines. In their own words:

“The Complete Florida Degree Program is established for the purpose of recruiting, recovering, and retaining the state’s adult learners and assisting them in completing an associate degree or a baccalaureate degree that is aligned to high-wage, high-skill workforce needs…”

Students would also be required to speak with an advisor before switching majors. Since schools will be under the state’s thumb, It is not a far stretch to say that someone in a Meta Major program, who wishes to switch to a regular undergraduate degree, may feel pressured to stay in the cash cow program. If this is not the definition of gross conflict of interest, I do not know what is.

Focusing on What’s Wrong the Educational System

While I see how this could be productive for now, why not cut off the beast’s head instead of a toe. The Florida Congress needs to sit down right now, and design a new way for students starting kindergarten to approach education. Florida needs to prepare students for college much, MUCH earlier, and in a variety of ways that will make a lasting impression. The best thing for all students would be to ditch standardized tests and give teachers (especially science and math) a chance to teach from outside the textbook.

The educational system failed students a long time ago. Trying to get students to play catch up 13 years later is a waste of money, time, and effort. If Florida congress actually wants to see their students flourish past minimum-wage jobs, prove it. Scrap this whole program and make real changes where it matters.

This is a call to action for every student, parent, teacher, administrator, and anyone who has bettered their life thanks to the freedom to explore the college experience.

This is NOT law yet, and this is probably the only chance to voice opposition. Below, you will find links that will directly take you to the contact information, or a search for local representatives:

Governor Rick Scott

House of Representatives

Senators

Florida Department of Education

We live in a country with an interactive government. If this idea enrages you, and you don’t even take the time to write an email, you are failing this country as much as the government you complain about. Your voice and your vote are all you have.

Equal Access/Equal Opportunity
The Board of Trustees of St. Petersburg College affirms its equal opportunity policy in accordance with the provisions of the Florida Educational Equity Act and all other relevant state and federal laws, rules and regulations. The college will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, age, national origin, marital status, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, or against any qualified individual with disabilities in its employment practices or in the admission and treatment of students. Recognizing that sexual harassment constitutes discrimination on the basis of sex and violates this Rule, the college will not tolerate such conduct. Should you experience such behavior, please contact Pamela Smith, the director of EA/EO/Title IX Coordinator at 727-341-3261; by mail at P.O. Box 13489, St. Petersburg, FL 33733-3489; or by email at eaeo_director@spcollege.edu.

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