Where did all of Florida’s ‘community’ colleges go?

If state lawmakers approve HB 619, only two institutions -- Hillsborough Community College and Tallahassee Community College -- would retain the community label in the 28-school system.
Hillsborough Community College is one of the last two in Florida to keep the "community" label.
Hillsborough Community College is one of the last two in Florida to keep the "community" label.
Published Jan. 3, 2018

Florida "community colleges" would continue to be a vanishing breed under a proposal that will be considered during the legislative session that starts next week.

A bill (HB 619) awaiting a hearing in the House Education Committee would remove the "community" label from Florida Keys Community College and North Florida Community College in Madison.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, and Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami, would rename the schools as The College of the Florida Keys and North Florida College. The bill has been unanimously approved by the House Post-Secondary Education Subcommittee.

If approved by the Legislature, it would mean only two institutions — Tallahassee Community College and Hillsborough Community College — would retain the community label in the 28-school system.

The majority of members of the state college system began as "junior colleges," with the establishment of Palm Beach Junior College, now known as Palm Beach State College, in 1933 as the first two-year institution in the state.

Most later became community colleges and then "state colleges" when they began to offer four-year baccalaureate degrees in addition to two-year associate degrees, which remain their primary degree programs.

State law allows the institutions, with approval from local boards of trustees, to seek designation as a "college" or "state college" if they have been authorized by the State Board of Education to grant baccalaureate degrees and the schools have secured accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

New names must also be approved by the Legislature.

In the case of North Florida, the school will offer its first four-year degree, a bachelor of science in nursing. The Florida Keys school, meanwhile, is offering a bachelor of applied science in supervision and management.

When his school's board of trustees approved the name change last year, John Grosskopf, president of North Florida Community College, said despite the name change, the institution would continue to focus on the educational needs of its local communities, which include Madison, Suwannee, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lafayette and Taylor counties.

"Community is at the heart of everything we do here at NFCC," Grosskopf said. "NFCC's mission and commitment to the community will not change."

Although the two colleges are seeking name changes, the effort may meet resistance in the state Senate.

Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican whose district includes the Keys, is a sponsoring a name-changing bill (SB 946) for Florida Keys Community College.

But Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who has led a major higher-education initiative since he became the Senate leader, has expressed reservations about changing community colleges into "state colleges," contending it could lead to confusion with four-year institutions like Florida State University.

Last year, the House passed the Florida Keys bill in a 116-0 vote, but the proposal stalled in the Senate, where it never received a hearing.

This year, the Senate is advancing a bill (SB 540), sponsored by Education Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, that would create a new statewide board to oversee the 28 state and community colleges. The measure, which is meeting opposition from many state-college advocates, would also cap the number of four-year degrees awarded by the schools.

What's more, the Senate legislation would rename the current "Florida college system" as the "Florida community college system," although it would not impact the names of the individual schools.