Community colleges may see more money

Published: Friday, January 16, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 16, 2004 at 12:06 a.m.
Gov. Jeb Bush proposed Thursday that Florida's community colleges receive a $104.5 million increase in the 2004-05 budget, a move that school officials said could finally fund enrollment growth.
Bush, visiting Valencia Community College, said the 7.6 percent increase in direct aid would represent the largest funding raise for Florida's 28 community colleges in 14 years. He acknowledged that the budget had been tight in the past year.
"Today is a different day," Bush said. "In appreciation of what community colleges do, I'm here with a little bit of better news."
Bush's will request a total of $1.5 billion for community colleges when he presents his budget to the Legislature next week. Squeezed by last year's funding, community college leaders had sought an increase of at least $100 million to meet the growing demands on the system.
Because of the tight budget, community colleges were forced to raise tuition by 7.5 percent last year.
At Santa Fe Community College, the state contributed $31.5 million two years ago, $31.6 million last year and $31.5 million to the college's budget this year. "Having not been level-funded for three years, this recommendation is great for us," SFCC President Jackson Sasser said. "This (would be) a remedy to the underfunded enrollments we have had."
Sanford Shugart, president of Valencia Community College, said the additional funding would cover the enrollment growth that forced some schools to turn away applicants. "We're ready to rock 'n' roll again," Shugart said.
Thomas Gamble, district president of Brevard Community College and chairman of the Council of Presidents of the Florida Association of Community Colleges, said the budget proposal fulfills Bush's promise to fund enrollment growth.
"It's going to make a big difference to fund faculty, things like advisers, technical equipment in labs," Gamble said.
Bush said the proposal would fully fund matching grants of private donations for scholarships, loans, grants, equipment and facilities. It also would offer $6.4 million for five community colleges to offer bachelor's degrees in education, nursing and business administration.
There are 800,000 students attending community colleges in Florida. During the budget process, the community college system often receives a lower priority than the kindergarten through 12th grade schools and the universities, Bush acknowledged.
The governor pledged to rectify that. "When times were good, it appeared that the community college system was left with the crumbs," Bush said. "It came in third in good times and it came in third in bad times."
Staff writer Douane D. James contributed to this report.

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