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Expanded college programs proposed

Florida lawmakers are considering the possibility of offering four-year degree programs at the state's two-year community colleges.

The idea is driven largely by growth and the state budget squeeze.

"I think it's an idea worth taking a look at because we have a serious problem," said Clark Maxwell, executive director of the community college system.

That problem has prompted universities to freeze enrollment for the next academic year, which could mean more qualified first-year applicants will be turned away and some aspiring transfer students will be denied admission.

But the most crowded conditions are found in the third- and fourth-year classes, filled with students who have been at universities for the first two years and with community college transfer students, who are guaranteed a place if they have their two-year associate's degree.

Lawmakers are considering the feasibility of offering four-year degrees at some community colleges, though state Rep. Norm Ostrau, D-Plantation, would like it to move fast because of increasing enrollment.

In some cases, students already can attend classes at community colleges and earn a four-year degree, but only in cooperation with a university.

Florida's higher-education system is unlike that of other large states, which tend to have large research universities, teaching-oriented colleges and universities, and community colleges. Florida lacks that middle tier.

Ostrau thinks Florida needs that extra tier so a student can earn a bachelor's degree without the expense of research, which takes up a lot of a faculty's time.

Lawmakers agree that something needs to be done to relieve the space crunch at the nine universities.