The Florida Keys Community College administrator has no immediate plans to respond with concrete proposals to a challenge made Monday by Gov. Rick Scott to the state's community colleges: Start offering four-year bachelor's degrees for less than $10,000.
Nonetheless, FKCC President Jonathan Gueverra was cautiously welcoming of the idea, and may revisit the issue in the future.
"The governor's challenge is really an attempt to further bring attention to the rising cost of higher education," Gueverra said. "As a college CEO, the parent of two college graduates and with one still left to go to college, I see nothing wrong with challenging colleges to refocus and to pay attention to affordability."
For the moment, he said, FKCC does not have baccalaureate programs. As a result, the challenge does not apply to the local college in the strictest sense.
"Nonetheless, FKCC will remain vigilant in its mission to assure affordability for residents who want to pursue higher education," he said.
The idea of four-year degrees was bandied about in the past by former FKCC President Jill Landesberg-Boyle, but disappeared from discussion under her replacement, Larry Tyree. Gueverra recently replaced Tyree at the helm over the summer.
Students approached by The Citizen Wednesday were unanimously in favor of the concept.
"I think it would be a good idea, because right now most students go to the community college for two years, because it's cheaper than a university, and then they move on to the university (level)," said Christa Squires, who moved to Key West to attend FKCC and is currently majoring in biology, with an eye on becoming a forensic anthropologist. "For a lot of us, it's the whole reason we go to community college. We take what we can here, and then transfer to university."
Fellow student Mecca Seide is in a somewhat different situation. She's a Marathon High School senior who's won a full scholarship to a university, but is trying to get ahead of the game by taking algebra, chemistry, English composition, and a course called "Human Growth and Development," at FKCC while attending high school.
A "dual enrollment" student, Seide travels to the Key West campus twice a week from Marathon, and through her scholarship makes the financial goal of Scott's plan less of an issue for her. However, she agrees it would be a welcome development.
"It would be very helpful to some students," she said. "Education is expensive. Anything that helps make it cheaper helps students."
Jordan Guieb, a Key West high schooler, is also taking an English comp course to get ahead.
"I think [Scott's proposal] would definitely help out the kids from low income families," he said. "They'd then be able to get better jobs, and then help their families."
Other community colleges in the state have also been receptive to Scott's challenge since it was first made public.
Brevard Community College President Jim Richey responded that the plan is a perfect fit for the college's mission to provide high-quality education and to keep costs low.
"We're strongly supportive of Gov. Scott's plan and intend to start examining four-year degrees that we could offer for $10,000 that would put more educational and career opportunities within the reach of more students," said Richey.
Brevard Community College has petitioned the State Board of Education to begin offering the first bachelor degree program in its history.
Gueverra did outline the process whereby FKCC would attempt to fall into line with the governors's approach, should college administrators decide to do so.
"Any proposal to offer baccalaureate programs at FKCC will begin with a purposeful feasibility study," he said. "Our current strategic planning process includes considerations for baccalaureate options. I envision that our programs will closely match our workforce needs."
There are accreditation issues that must be addressed if the college decides to offer the program and there will be considerations related to faculty, their credentials and the support services needed to support such an expansion, he added.
"These and other concerns must be taken very seriously as the face of the campus will change when you leave a model where students are spending two years on campus and they are now around for an additional two years," he said. "Anything that we do will need to be supported by the board, the campus community and our stakeholders in Monroe County. It must also be financially viable and sustainable."
Florida's 28 community colleges are a cornerstone of the state's education system, with 66 percent of high school graduates attending them at the start of their higher education, according to the State Department of Education.
At press time another four colleges, including Brevard, Northwest Florida State College, South Florida State College, and Chipola College, had accepted Scott's challenge, bringing the number of institutions expressing interest or support in the proposal to more than half of the total.