Community college students can live in a brand-new residence hall at Edison State College in Ft. Myers, Florida. But the $26.3 million Lighthouse Commons is only two-thirds full, reports the News Press. That means the 405-bed complex will lose money this year.
Standard rates are $3,300 per semester, per student for two-bedroom units, or $3,000 for each student living in a four-bedroom unit; all utilities are included.
The complex was 74 percent full at the start of the fall semester, but “several dozen students were evicted for violating dorm policies or non-payment, graduated or left for other reasons,” reports the News Press. At the start of spring semester, the occupancy rate was down to 65 percent.
LightHouse Commons will have a wait list within two years, predicts Russell Watjen, vice president of student affairs.
Security guards keep non-residents from entering the building without an escort, but some residents complain of problems outside the building.
Arthur Magiera, a 19-year-old sophomore from Naples, remains in LightHouse Commons this term, but said drug and alcohol use among other students has been a problem. He also questions strict residence hall policies, like the one governing visitors of the opposite sex.
“I can’t have my girlfriend here past midnight,” he said. “They enforce that but don’t do anything about what’s happening outside the building.”
Late at night, Magiera said groups of intoxicated students congregate outdoors and intimidate residents.
Ten of 28 Florida community and state colleges offer on-campus housing. Many campuses also offer four-year degrees in vocational fields.
A Florida community college awarded associate degrees to students who hadn’t completed core requirements, reports The News-Press. Edison State College in the Naples and Ft. Myers area has suspended two administrators.
Students were allowed to substitute unrelated electives, such as theater, mythology and photography, for core classes in banking, accounting and management.
Raising graduation rates may have been the motive.
Course substitution forms were filed as late as graduation day in past semesters so students could receive diplomas. Edison’s graduation rate historically has been low, with 8 percent of students completing an associate degree program in two years.
Last month, a report showed Edison had climbed from No. 73 to 49 nationally in the number of associate degrees awarded, and a record number of graduates in 2010-11.
Over a five-year period, 2.5 percent of students were allowed to substitute courses; some may have been legitimate. Most inappropriate substitutions were in accounting, business management, and drafting and design.
Edison State’s accreditation will be reviewed in the fall.
“Beyond a traditional dormitory, I see this as a living and learning center,” said ESC President Kenneth Walker. “It’s not just a place where students come to live. We plan to have a variety of activities within our facility.”
ESC offers 10 bachelor’s degree programs, attracting students from outside the immediate area.
Florida’s community colleges now offer 111 bachelor’s degree programs, reports Inside Higher Ed. A new law will make it easier for colleges to add new programs.
In 2008, “Gov. Charlie Crist signed a controversial bill rebranding the state’s community college system” to meet the demand for four-year degrees in nursing, education and applied sciences careers. Programs now include homeland security, fire science management, interior design and international business.
None of Miami Dade College’s 12 baccalaureate programs generated a competing proposal from a neighboring four-year institution, says Pamela Menke, vice provost for education at Miami Dade.
By and large, Menke explained, it is less expensive for a community college to add the remaining two years for a program they already offer at the associate degree level than for a nearby four-year institution to create a baccalaureate program from scratch. This, she added, is the case with the college’s new four-year degree in film, television and digital production, as the college already has a studio and all of the high-tech equipment in place.
Community colleges’ four-year degree programs are attracting older students and minority students, making them less of a threat to four-year institutions.
For instance, whereas three-fourths of the students in the state’s public four-year institutions are between the ages of 18 and 25, more than three-fourths of students in community college baccalaureate programs are older than 26 (with most of those being older than 35).
Valencia Community College had no plans to add four-year degrees until nearby University of Central Florida asked Valencia to take over engineering technology and radiology imaging programs.
Some community college leaders fear “mission creep.” That’s a legitimate concern, says Linda Serra Hagedorn, professor and director of the Research Institute for Studies in Higher Education at Iowa State University.
“There are a lot of different types of students who knock at the door of community colleges,” said Hagedorn, who before moving to Iowa State was a longtime educational policy researcher at the University of Florida. “I just worry that they’re not going to be able to serve all those different types if they’re bringing in more four-year program students. There will be less room for remediation and truly vocational programs. Some are not going to be as well-served as others. We have to remember the reason community colleges were established in the first place.”
Kenneth Walker, president of Edison State College in Fort Myers, is eager to expand the college’s mission. This fall, Edison State is opening a charter high school to serve as a feeder to the community college. The next step is Edison University, a “spinoff” private institution offering community college graduates an array of baccalaureate and master’s degrees. Walker’s long-term goal is a seamless K-16 system serving low-income and minority students.