SF accepts challenge for low-cost degree

Published: Monday, November 26, 2012 at 7:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 26, 2012 at 7:55 p.m.

Santa Fe College has accepted a challenge from Gov. Rick Scott to create a four-year degree program that would cost students $10,000.

SF has proposed to create a bachelor degree in public safety management that would launch next fall, pending approval from the Florida Legislature.

Earlier on Monday, Scott publicly announced the move as a response to rising college costs and student debt.

"I am issuing a challenge to our state colleges to find innovative ways to offer a bachelor's degree at a cost of just $10,000 in fields that will provide graduates with a great opportunity for employment," he said in a news release.

The proposal comes alongside pledges from six other state colleges to create such degrees. Broward College, College of Central Florida, Daytona State College, Seminole State College, St. Petersburg College and Valencia College also have accepted the challenge.

Jackson Sasser, president of SF, said the purpose of the initiative is about helping people get work.

"It's about jobs," he said. "It's about getting people in good jobs."

Speaking at a news conference at Valencia College on Monday, Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell offered her endorsement of SF's proposal.

"The advanced level of training offered by this degree will provide law enforcement personnel the opportunity to obtain the knowledge and skills they need to perform the highest level of service to residents of our communities," she said.

The new program would mark the sixth four-year degree offered by SF. The average cost for such a degree at the college is between $11,000 and $13,000, according to Sasser.

"It may not seem like a lot of money," he said, "but if you've got a family, like many of our students do, ($1,000, $2,000) $3,000 is a lot of money."

According to the Department of Education's 2012 annual report for the Florida College System, the mean level of tuition and fees was $3,328 during the 2011-12 academic year. At this rate, a four-year degree would cost about $13,300. At a Florida university, four years of tuition and fees averages about $25,000, or nearly twice as much as for the 28 colleges.

The idea drew applause from state education officials, but the Florida Democratic Party criticized his proposal, saying that Scott supported a $300 million spending cut for state universities this year and reductions in merit-based Bright Futures scholarships.

"We've heard these empty words from Rick Scott before and Florida's middle class families are looking for real leadership — not failed gimmicks masquerading as sound bites," the Democrats said in a statement.

Scott's challenge came just three weeks after his Blue Ribbon Task Force on State Higher Education Reform recommended that Florida's 12 universities be allowed to increase tuition rates if they meet certain quality criteria. That's something Scott has opposed in the past although Florida's tuition rates are among the lowest in the nation.

"As I travel the state, families tell me that they care about three things — getting a good job, a quality education and enjoying a low cost of living," Scott said in a statement. "As a former community college student myself, I know how important it is for us to keep costs low."

Randy Hanna, chancellor of the Florida College System, said in a statement Monday that Florida's colleges have a history of responding to workforce needs.

"We look forward to working with the Legislature to obtain the approvals that will help us meet our workforce demands," he said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Contact Joey Flechas at 338-3166 or joey.flechas@gvillesun.com.

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