SPC Students and President Bill Law Speak Out About Budget Cuts Targeting Community Colleges

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St. Petersburg College urges Florida Gov. Rick Scott to veto budget that strips funding from state community colleges.

St. Petersburg College (SPC) President Bill Law and multiple SPC students gathered on Tuesday, May 23 to speak about the impacts of budget cuts imposed by the Florida state Legislature.

The Legislature’s 2017-18 budget includes a $25 million reduction in funding for the Florida College System’s 28 community colleges, which includes a budget reduction of $1.8 million in funding for SPC.

Reduced funding may result in fewer class offerings and a decrease in the scope of student support measures like tutoring and integrated career and academic advising. Both could cause a delay in students finishing their degrees. The move comes at a time when community college enrollment in Florida has dropped due to an improved economy, which has already caused a decrease in tuition revenue.

“Delaying that graduation makes life very difficult for everyone. When we are in the middle of a recession, enrollment peaks. When people can’t find jobs, they come back to college.” Law said. “When money is coming back to the state, it’s hard for us to understand why the state wouldn’t find a way to put a few dollars in the Florida College System and keep us whole - keep us moving forward and let us do the good work we do to serve Pinellas County.”

Law and students urged Florida Gov. Rick Scott to veto the budget cut.

“Governor Rick Scott should veto the budget items affecting community colleges and send it back to the Legislature to have $25 million in cuts for community colleges restored for the school year of 2017-18,” said Tracy Pham, 16, Vice President of the Student Government Association on the college’s Seminole Campus.

Students said they see an inequality in the funding provided to state universities. As the Legislature cut $25 million from community colleges, it is investing an additional $232 million into state universities in 2017-18.

All students cannot afford the cost of universities, said student Nathyn Montagano, 29. St. Petersburg College’s tuition is roughly half that of state universities in Florida.

“To ask us to put ourselves into six figures worth of debt before we even enter the workforce, I mean, that’s quite the burden you’re asking us to put on ourselves,” said Montagano, who serves as Parliamentarian of the Student Government Association on the Gibbs Campus.

SPC has worked diligently to increase student success rates through additional tutoring and integrated career and academic advising to ensure that students gain skills they need to find gainful employment.

“At St. Petersburg College, we’ve made major commitments to supporting our students in our learning support centers, where students can get tutoring and help outside of classes for virtually any subject that they study in,” Law said. “And our data clearly shows that students who are engaged in out-of-class support are more likely to be successful. Any reduction in funding that threatens those support systems is detrimental to students.”

SPC, which serves thousands of military veterans each year, is nationally recognized for its veterans’ services. Brandon Smith, 31, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and President of the Student Veteran’s Association, said he worries that the decreased funding may force the college to scale back its work with veterans who are eager to return to the workforce.

“We are a community college. We come out here and transition from the military and go to school and get a job in the community. Cutting funds is bad for business...If it’s bad for business, it’s bad for veterans,” Smith said. “From your EMS workers to policemen to trade jobs like plumbers, mechanics and anything else you need, you get them from a community college. And you want to cut that? I don’t think that’s a good idea at all.”

Fatma Hedeia, 55, President of the Student Government Association on SPC’s Clearwater Campus, said she feared a decrease in class offerings, which will negatively impact SPC’s large population of part-time college students who require access to flexible scheduling options in order to juggle additional demands at work and home. She implored Gov. Scott to send the budget back to the Legislature to restore the funding.

“Cutting the budget is really going to hurt a lot of us. Not just the high school kids coming to school, but the people who are older and trying to go back to school,” Hedeia said. “Governor Scott, you’ve got to veto this bill, send it back and make them redo it.”

This is a press release from St. Petersburg College. For more information, contact Rita Farlow, Assistant Director, Marketing and Strategic Communications, at farlow.rita@spcollege.edu or 727-302-6526, or Marilyn Shaw, Public Relations Specialist, at shaw.marilyn(at)spcollege.edu or 727-341-4712.
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