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Colleges Looking at Fewer Dollars, More Students

Florida's state colleges could see more students next fall, but little money to cover that increase.

The Legislature is still weeks away from finalizing its budget, but the individual chambers have passed budget proposals, each with a different amount of money for the state college system, which includes the institutions long known as community colleges.

The House 2010-2011 budget is $1.8 billion and the Senate is looking at $1.95 billion, with both including an 8 percent tuition increase. It is a step up from last year's $1.72 billion budget, but it's still not great, community college officials say. The big difference between the two right now though is over money to fund the enrollment increase.

Community college enrollment has risen from 767,625 in 2006-2007 to 924,000 for the current school year. But the money has not followed the enrollment over the past few years, leaving some college officials worried about keeping their doors open to all students, their core mission.

College officials haven't released a prediction yet on how many students will be enrolled in fall 2010, but there's a good chance the numbers will go up again.

In the House, there is no money to specifically account for the increase in students. The Senate has included $59 million for enrollment growth. Probably not enough some college officials say, but it will certainly help.

“It's never enough, but it will definitely ease some of the pain,” said Michael Brawer, executive director of the Florida Association of Community Colleges.

Larry Bracken, a lobbyist for Pensacola Junior College, said the budget would need to have about a $120 million specifically for handling the enrollment growth. But like other college officials, he is pulling for the Senate version of the budget

“We are definitely far better off because the Senate funds the growth for the system,” Bracken said.

Enrollment in community colleges typically jumps during hard economic times for retraining and the past few years have been no exception. State College Chancellor Willis Holcombe has publicly warned that the colleges will have more and more problems if enrollment increases and the money does not follow. College officials have said that it is likely that students would not have access to the classes they need in a timely manner during this budget crunch.

Legislative leaders are still working out the differences between the two overall budgets in terms of allocations. The House's overall budget is $67.2 billion, while the Senate is at $68.6 billion. The Senate is relying on federal Medicaid money, gaming dollars and local property tax increases to fund its budget, money the House is currently not counting.

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