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South Florida.
These cuts at the public four-
year universities have pushedmore
students into community colleges,
which have open admissions, and
whose enrollment is soaring while
their own resources are in freefall.
The same week the universities lost
$114million in state funding, the
state’s 28 community colleges were
cut by a collective $44million.
As withmany things, Florida
provides an extreme example here,
too, of what is happening more
slowly elsewhere in the country:
the creation of a two-class system
in which largely white graduates
of private and suburban public
high schools enjoy the prestige
of attending four-year flagship
universities, while urban, rural,
low-income and non-white
students fill beyond capacity the
classrooms of community colleges.
“The fact of the matter is we’re serving a population that the
universities refuse to serve,” said Eduardo Padrón, president of
Miami Dade College—a community college in the throbbing
heart of Miami that is now the largest institution of higher
learning in the United States, with nearly 165,000 students.
“We’re open-door, while the universities are becoming more
selective, limiting enrollment, requiring higher SATs and GPAs.
The result of that is we’re getting the bulk of the students.”
Bridging neighborhoods of bodegas, exotic-smelling cafes
Cubano, and check-cashing stores on one side, soaring new
condo towers and theMiami cruise-ship port on the other, the
main campus of Miami Dade has, if not a grassy quad, at least
a brick pedestrian plaza. But rather than scattered students
strolling unhurriedly fromone class to another, it teems with
people of different hues and speaking different languages
walking briskly or standing in long lines everywhere, from the
office where they pay their bills to the entrance to the parking
garage that seems to be the largest building at the college.
Miami Dade has the highest number of Hispanics, and
the second-highest enrollment of blacks, of any college or
university in America. Nearly 60 percent of its students earn
$25,000 or less, and half of those live below the poverty line.
They come from192 countries and speak 93 languages, and
most are the first in their families to go to college.
Community college enrollment in Florida is up 14 percent
in the last two years, tomore than 800,000 students, even as
funding plummets. Yet unlike the four-year universities or
even primary and secondary public schools in Florida, the
state’s community colleges aren’t funded ahead of time for
their predicted enrollments, but are allocatedmoney based on
a rolling average of the number who attended in the previous
three years, whichmeans they are constantly falling behind.
“When it comes to funding, community colleges are the
Cinderellas of the system,” Padrón said. “We get the money
after the fact, if we’re lucky.”
One upshot of this is that Miami Dade is getting nomoney
at all from the state for 13,000 of its students—equal to the total
that attends the private University of Miami in nearby Coral
Gables.The college’s facilities are 40 percent over their capacity.
Students say that as many as 60 of them at a time are being
packed into what are supposed to be seminar-style classes,
forced to scrounge around the corridors for desks, or at least
folding chairs, and taking notes on their laps.
Evidence of why the college is so crowded, and why
Florida higher education is in somuch trouble, is all around
the campus.Those pricey condo towers are largely empty,
cruise-ship bookings have flattened out after years of increases,
hotel occupancy is way down, and things are slow at the fancy
shopping mall across Biscayne Boulevard, even on a sunny, 78-
degree winter day. All of whichmeans that less sales taxes are
being collected—a staggering $31.4 billion less in the next four
years, economists predict—an amount equal to half the current
annual state budget.
Florida’s growthmachine fueled, and was fueled by, the
state’s historical aversion to taxes. Low taxes, after all, attracted
the retirees, and, later, families with children, whomoved here.
Now, after years of breakneck population growth that kept
government coffers flowing, Florida’s bubble has burst. Long
dependent on real estate, tourism and construction, the state
has gone from leading the nation in job creation to leading in
job losses, and from the lowest unemployment rate to the ninth
highest.The construction industry alone has shed 79,000 jobs.
Florida is second in foreclosure filings, and 300,000 homes
remain unsold, six times the previous average. Fromfirst in the
country in the value of its gross domestic product, Florida has
plunged to 47th.
When times were good, politicians seldomhad tomake
particularly hard decisions about how to spend the money.
Now, like T.K. Wetherell’s chickens, that legacy of political
expediency also has come home. Years of haggling over control
of it has had the effect of leaving all levels of the state’s higher
education systemparticularly vulnerable to the worsening
recession.
Governance of public higher education afterWorldWar II
was assigned to the seven-member Florida Board of Control,
which in practice controlled very little, while the legislature
micromanaged universities and colleges.The same was
generally true of its successor agency, the Board of Regents, set
up in 1965. By the 1990s, legislators decided to rid themselves
of the regents, who often got in the way of their plans for
campuses in their home districts.The end for the board came in
2001, when it resistedGovernor Jeb Bush’s resolve to eliminate
affirmative-action policies at public universities. Bush pushed
to replace the Board of Regents with boards of trustees for
“The fact of the matter is we’re serving a
population that the universities refuse to serve,”
says Eduardo Padrón, president of Miami Dade
College, the largest two-year college in the U.S.
Florida’s bubble has burst. Long
dependent on real estate, tourism and
construction, the state has gone from
leading the nation in job creation to
leading in job losses.
Len Kaufman, Black Star, for CrossTalk