Community colleges' impressive scores
A culture change appears to be working out well for Hillsborough Community College and the rest of the state's college system. The independent publication Community College Week recently ranked HCC fifth in the country in the number of degrees awarded by two-year institutions. St. Petersburg College ranked 10th for degrees awarded among four-year institutions. Overall, the entire Florida College System was ranked among the highest performing in the nation when it comes to degrees being awarded.HCC President Ken Atwater chalks it up to a focus on giving students what they need to complete their studies and get that degree. "We removed barriers wherever we thought there was a barrier," Atwater told the Tribune's Jerome R. Stockfisch. The school employs targeted career programs, free tutoring and adviser centers. That led to 3,843 degrees awarded in 2011-12, a 30 percent increase from the previous year. St. Petersburg College awarded 4,019 associate degrees, up 15 percent from the previous year. Across the state, Florida colleges awarded more than 102,000 associate degrees, second only to California. Part of Florida's success is linked to the alignment between state colleges and baccalaureate universities, which makes it relatively easy to transfer. Atwater said the school always made access a priority. Now the emphasis, once those students come through the door, is on completion. And with good reason. According to the U.S. Census, a worker with an associate degree stands to earn 20 percent more than a worker with a high school diploma. A worker with a bachelor's degree stands to earn as much as 70 percent more than a worker with a high school diploma. With acceptance standards at universities rising along with tuition costs, the state is well-served to have a college system that gives its students every chance to reach the finish line.