Santa Fe is among leaders in graduates


Published: Wednesday, January 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 1, 2003 at 1:10 a.m.

ORLANDO - Florida's community colleges have the highest graduation rates in the South - and Santa Fe Community College has one of the highest in the state - because they encourage students to transfer to four-year colleges, officials said.

Facts

AT A GLANCE

At SFCC, 43.3 percent graduate within three years, and the college kept 86.5 percent of its students during the two-year study.

A new survey by a nonprofit organization monitoring schools and colleges from Maryland to Oklahoma found that 30 percent of Florida's community college students graduate within three years, far ahead of 15 other Southern states. The state's community colleges also are best at keeping students enrolled, found the survey by the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board.

At SFCC, 43.3 percent graduate within three years, fifth highest of Florida's 28 community colleges. The study also found that SFCC kept 86.5 percent of its students during the two-year study, the highest in the state.

"That is something that Santa Fe should be exceptionally proud of," said Bill Edmonds of the state Department of Education. "I'd like to know what they are doing there to get that kind of rate. At a 76 percent retention rate, we are No. 1 in the South. For Santa Fe to have 86 percent, they are way up there."

Florida Community College System Chancellor David Armstrong credited the state's Two-Plus-Two program, which assures that community college graduates can transfer to state universities, with the high ratings. That helps the colleges attract more serious students, he said.

That could account for SFCC's success, officials said, noting that many of its students come from out of town with a goal of eventually getting into the University of Florida. Also, Armstrong said, Florida students get far more help outside the classroom, from basic remediation for math and science skills to career planning.

Yet Armstrong and the president of the community college in Orlando he called a model - Valencia - both said that by providing all these services, Florida is at risk of stretching its funding too far.

''We're now at the point where increasing efficiency is probably a bad thing," Valencia President Sanford Shugart said.

Shugart said colleges began providing more support programs six years ago, when the state promised more money to colleges with higher retention and graduation rates. But the state has yet to provide the extra money.

Since 1997, the money the Legislature has tied to those and other performance standards has remained constant, adjusted for inflation. And community colleges are not given extra money to increase enrollment.

''I don't think there's any question that if there was a serious attempt to fund performance-based funding you'd see continued dramatic improvements,'' Shugart said. ''But it's expensive to deliver those services.''

Valencia now is limiting growth rather than cutting back on services or class sizes. The school now enrolls about 15,800 students full time, up just 2 percent from last year. Over the previous two years, enrollment went up more than 24 percent.

Restricting growth saves money, but threatens a basic mission of community colleges to provide education to anyone who wants it. This winter, for the second consecutive semester, Valencia turned away as many as 2,000 prospective students, Shugart said.

Armstrong said if state money is not increased, or is cut as the Legislature looks for money to reduce K-12 class sizes, ''We could see more of that.''

Sun staff writer Cindy Swirko contributed to this report.

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