The FCS (formerly the Florida Community College System) has offered a small number of four-year degrees in fields such as nursing and computer engineering technology for about a decade. In Florida, associate's degree graduates are guaranteed admission to a state university, and FCS baccalaureate programs honor this structure by requiring students to complete an associate's degree before applying.
So far, unlike university students, FCS bachelor's degree seekers have skewed toward working adults seeking a credential that will lead to a promotion or a new career. About 42 percent of students have been nonwhite. FCS institutions don't offer liberal arts degrees, and can't offer programs that directly compete with those at nearby universities.
But in programs roughly equivalent to university majors, FCS graduates do just fine. Business administration and elementary education majors at state universities earn about the same their first year out of school as FCS graduates, the report found. Registered nurses who graduate from FCS institutions actually earn about $10,000 more their first year out than their university-educated peers.
Even graduates of the state flagships, University of Florida and Florida State University, don't seem to experience an immediate earnings boost. The average graduate who finds work in Florida after graduation actually earns less than the statewide average, while owing more in student debt. UF and FSU graduates are more likely, however, to pursue graduate school immediately or to leave the state.
Degrees from truly brand-name institutions, like those in the Ivy League, do pay off, says Mark Schneider of the American Institutes for Research, the author of the Florida report and an expert on college-degree outcomes. It's not clear whether that's due to the quality of an elite education or because of the talent of students accepted to elite schools.
But the majority of American college students don't go to Princeton. They earn their degrees from the campuses of a state university system, which may not be particularly differentiated by selectivity and price within the state. In that context, what students study is more important than the institution they choose. "With very few exceptions, if you start out with a low-paying job because you've gotten a philosophy major, 10 years later you're still below everybody else," Schneider says.
"We need to do a better job of informing the public that this isn't a lesser degree," Howdyshell says. Broward may not have residence halls, wellness centers, or Greek life, but that doesn't mean classroom instruction is inferior. The college is known locally for its caring faculty, and many courses almost exactly mirror university coursework.
Partida hopes that, by getting a degree aligned with workforce needs, he'll have an easier time finding work than he did with just a high school diploma. The former restaurant owner and father of two will soon graduate with a bachelor of applied science in supply chain management. According to Broward's analysis of state data, by 2019 there'll be 3,555 new jobs in the county for people with supply chain management expertise. The expansion of two area ports will drive that increase.