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DeSantis signs three bills aimed at strengthening vocational education

He says too many students end up with degrees in “zombie studies or something” after four years at a university.
From left, state Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, Gov. Ron DeSantis and House Speaker Chris Sprowls display the education bills signed Thursday at Hillsborough Community College's Dale Mabry campus.
From left, state Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, Gov. Ron DeSantis and House Speaker Chris Sprowls display the education bills signed Thursday at Hillsborough Community College's Dale Mabry campus. [ DIVYA KUMAR | Times ]
Published Jun. 24

TAMPA — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed three bills that he said were part of a state effort to double down on vocational education.

During a news conference at Hillsborough Community College’s Dale Mabry campus, he touted workforce programs as an alternative to college for many students.

The last five to 10 years have led to a “reality check” for four-year universities, DeSantis said, adding that students should not be “shoehorned” into programs that aren’t right for them.

Getting a university education has “caused a lot of people to go deep into debt,” he said. “Fortunately in Florida our universities are very affordable. But you look around at some of these private universities, particularly in other parts of the country, and you see students saddled with tens of thousands in debt, sometimes a hundred-plus thousand dollars. And then they have a degree in zombie studies or something. And they get out and it’s like okay, they end up working in a job you don’t even need to go to college for.”

Among the bills he signed Thursday were House Bill 1507, which will establish a money-back guarantee on tuition for certain apprenticeship programs if students are unable to find a job in their field of study within six months of graduation.

Under the measure, state colleges will be asked to pick three programs that will offer that deal. It also creates a Labor Market Estimating Conference that will meet twice a year to assess the supply and demand of jobs in the state by region. The bill also creates a “no wrong door” strategy to ensure those seeking workforce readiness services from agencies aren’t turned away.

Related: RELATED: Florida workforce program is about to get major changes. Here’s what they’d do.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls said the bill would transform the workforce and provide students with economic mobility. He said the money-back guarantee showed a level of confidence typically displayed only in the private sector.

“It doesn’t matter which door they pick to go through,” he said. “There’s no wrong door anymore. ...You should be able to say what are the hot jobs in my zip code that I’m qualified for. And if I’m not qualified, is there a local credential that I can get at (Hillsborough Community College) or St. Pete College, and is there a discount?”

DeSantis also signed Senate Bill 52, which will reimburse colleges and universities for dual enrollment courses taken by private and homeschooled students starting in fall and for all students starting next summer. It also allows charter schools to create early college programs.

In addition, it exempts certain students from tuition and fees for the programs — those in the custody of the Department of Children and Families or who have been assigned a guardian by the courts or have been adopted from the department after May 1997.

Senate Bill 366, signed Thursday as well, offers grants to some students, including those seeking degrees from private nursing diploma schools approved by the Florida Board of Nursing or colleges or universities licensed by the Commission for Independent Education. Grants also will go to students who have been accepted at any aviation maintenance school located in Florida and certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.

In addition, the bill revamps the Florida Ready to Work certification program by expanding training to be offered at Department of Corrections facilities.

Also Thursday, DeSantis pointed to the state budget, which included $10 million for apprenticeship grants, $25 million for workforce funds at state colleges and $600,000 in mini grants the Department of Education and Career Source Florida will be awarding for apprenticeships.

“The bills we’re signing today really doubles down on vocational education, providing people with skills that can then be applied in the real world and that will be able to provide people with good careers,” he said.