At its last meeting of the fiscal year, the Polk State College District Board of Trustees took several important actions, positioning the College for the upcoming year. The meeting took place Monday at Polk State’s Lakeland campus.
With extensive discussion and a series of unanimous votes, the Board approved budgets for the College and its two charter collegiate high schools, established a new degree, accepted a tuition increase authorized by the state, and laid groundwork for a third charter high school at Polk State.
According to President Eileen Holden, the meeting was “a great example of what makes Polk State great.”
“There were some very important conversations today,” she said, “But our Trustees ultimately spoke with a unified voice and provided this administration with clear marching orders.”
By far the lengthiest of those conversations related to the administration’s recommendation that the Board adopt an increase in tuition and fees. Although the tuition increase of 5% was specifically authorized in the state’s budget, approved this spring by the Florida legislature and Governor Rick Scott, the Board took a very deliberate approach. Among the concerns expressed by Board members were Polk’s capacity to maintain its affordability as well as its institutional momentum.
Polk State currently boasts the lowest tuition of any college or university in the county, and over 90% of its students graduate without student loan debt.
According to Holden, the increase authorized in the state budget and approved by the Board will not impact the College’s positioning in the market: “We remain – by a wide margin – the lowest cost option. With the added resources this modest increase will provide, however, we can take important steps to ensure that we remain leaders not only in cost but also in quality.”
Board members also repeatedly referenced concerns raised by the Governor in his budget signing statement (04/17/2012), in which he forcefully expressed his desire that any tuition increases “be specifically designed to improve learning gains, enhance or improve services that are targeted toward higher completion and placement rates, or to expand or improve programs that are tied directly to Florida’s workforce needs.”
The Board clearly directed the President to commit the new revenue generated by their action toward such priorities: program and faculty enhancements related to the College Quality Enhancement Plan and workforce degrees, infrastructure investments to maintain and improve instructional quality, and targeted financial aid for degree completion initiatives.
Holden also assured the Board that her administration would remain attentive to opportunities to enhance efficiencies. “We welcome accountability. We want your input. We absolutely share your commitment to student success.”
In other business, the Board established a new Associate in Science degree in Professional Pilot Science, a program that extends a local workforce pipeline initiated by the Polk County School Board’s successful Central Florida Aerospace Academy in Lakeland, and authorized the College to apply to the school board for a new charter high school.
The new proposed high school, if approved by the school board, would open no sooner than Fall 2013 and serve young adult students who had become disengaged from traditional high schools and were otherwise unlikely to complete a high school diploma or GED.
According to Holden, “This represents a chance for us to impact the achievement gap here in Polk County. This new proposal targets those that no other system or institution is currently serving. We aren’t competing with other schools for those students – we are competing with the status quo, which for these students happens to be a lack of educational opportunity.”
Polk State’s new fiscal year begins on July 1, and Holden expressed a belief that the Board has positioned the College for continued success.
“The leadership and support of our Trustees remains vital, and I am proud of the team of staff and faculty we have in place. We remain the most affordable local option, and we are delivering unprecedented quality designed to meet specific local needs. Everything we do is focused on student success. I expect this year to be our best ever.”