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Florida Looks To Boost College-To-University Pipeline

Florida State College at Jacksonville's Nassau Center in Yulee is pictured.
Michael Rivera
Wikimedia Commons
Florida State College at Jacksonville's Nassau Center in Yulee is pictured.

Last fall, more than one out of every four students enrolled at state universities came from the Florida college system.

But data, presented last week to the Florida Board of Governors, showed that more students from state and community colleges could be moving into universities, where they could earn bachelor’s degrees that would likely correlate with higher earnings over their lifetimes.

In the 2016-2017 academic year, 61 percent of the 57,864 students who earned associate of arts degrees at the 28 schools in the college system applied for admission to state universities. More than 30,000 students, or 86 percent, were accepted, but only 25,000 of those students actually enrolled.

That data is being collected as part of an effort to improve Florida’s “two plus two” articulation system. The system allows students to start their post-high-school careers at colleges and earn associate degrees in two years. They then move on to state universities, where after another two years, they can earn bachelor’s degrees.

Wendy Link, a member of the university system’s Board of Governors, said Florida’s college-university articulation system is “the envy of the nation.” But she said the university and college systems are looking to make it better.

“As with all things, there are ways to improve upon it,” said Link, who leads the board’s Two (Plus) Two Articulation Committee.

Among the issues state higher-education officials will be looking at in the next few months are:

  • The 5,000 students who are accepted at state universities but never enroll.
  • The 38.8 percent of college students who earn associate degrees but never apply to a state university, a percentage that has increased from 35.5 percent in 2013-2014.
  • The 91 percent of college students who only apply to one state university. Some 95 percent of the students denied university admission applied to only one school, although they are guaranteed admission to at least one of the 12 state universities once they earn their associate degrees.
  • The 27 percent graduation rate, after two years, when college students transfer to state universities. That is much lower than the 49 percent graduation rate for students who enroll for four years at state universities. However, the six-year graduation rate for the college transfer students, at 68 percent, is similar to the 72 percent for the non-transfer university students.

Madeline Pumariega, chancellor of the college system, said Florida produces more associate degrees than any other state and that 63 percent of Florida high school students who move into post-secondary programs do so at state colleges.

Pumariega said there are opportunities for improvement in some areas like the 5,000 students accepted at universities who never enroll. But she also said there are other factors that influence the students’ decisions, including being “place bound” because of financial, family or work obligations and not being able to attend schools distant from their hometowns.

She said financial aid and the ages of the students are other factors. The new data showed the average age of the enrolled college transfer student was 25.5 years in 2017, compared to a little over 20 years for the four-year university students.

Pumariega also said her review of her system’s data showed that younger students who earn associate degrees are much more likely to transfer to state universities than older students. She said 84 percent of the students under the age of 25 enrolled at a university, while that percentage is reduced for older students who are “balancing work and life.”

Board of Governors members also heard testimony about the University of Central Florida’s DirectConnect program, which is designed to help state college students transfer to UCF. The Orlando school leads the state university system by taking more than 30 percent of the college transfers.

A key member of that program is Valencia College, the third-largest school in the state college system.

Sandy Shugart, president of Valencia, said his school has worked closely with UCF to develop the transfer program that guarantees college students admission at the university once they earn their associate degrees. The program is enhanced by UCF placing counselors on the Valencia campus to advise students who are part of the program.

Shugart said the university system leaders should seek “a variety of solutions” to improving the transfer programs and “not a single, silver-bullet solution.”

He also said while the statewide system should set broad policies, it should look to the schools on a regional basis to develop specific programs.

“The problem we have to solve in Central Florida is nothing like the problem they have to solve for access in the Panhandle,” he said.

Although Florida has tried to bring uniformity to its state college and university courses, Shugart said “the number one inhibitor” for transfer students earning their bachelor’s degrees is the loss of credits when they move to universities. He said there has been “an ever-creeping demand for specialization” in many of the upper-division majors that has impacted the transfer students.

He also warned against “simplistic policies” aimed at measuring performance. For instance, he said college transfer students are much more likely to be part-time students at the universities than the four-year students who are more likely to be full-time.

Shugart said metrics seeking to measure the time it takes to earn a degree need to be “nuanced” enough to take that factor into account.

Photo used under Creative Commons license.

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Lloyd Dunkelberger - News Service of Florida
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