3-Minute Interview . . . on Florida’s Emerging State College System

Dale Campbell



October 13, 2008



Dale Campbell


UF Education Professor and Director

Community College Leadership Consortium at UF


UF ACADEMIC TITLE: Professor, Higher Education Administration
ADVANCED DEGREE: Ph.D., Educational administration/community college leadership,
University of Texas at Austin
RESEARCH SPECIALTY: Trends of concern to community college administrators
WORTH NOTING: The national Council for the Study of Community Colleges last year honored Campbell with its Distinguished Service Award for outstanding contributions to innovation and leadership in community colleges. In the 1980s, as assistant commissioner of community colleges for the state of Texas, he once hired the late James L. Wattenbarger, a veteran UF COE professor and the architect of Florida’s community college system, as a consultant to examine the scope of the Texas technical and community colleges. In 1994, Campbell joined the UF faculty and worked alongside Wattenbarger, who by then was a Distinguished Professor Emeritus, in UF’s higher education administration program. (Wattenbarger died in 2006 at age 84.)



What stance do you and the College’s Higher Education Administration program take on the idea of authorizing community colleges to award baccalaureate (four-year) degrees?

Since early in the debate, we’ve been working on this issue with Florida’s community college leaders through our Community College Leadership Consortium. Rather than choosing sides, we serve as an independent think tank, helping state community college leaders weigh the pros and cons of conversion to a four-year baccalaureate-granting institution. For those who choose to take this path, we’ll provide some guidance and recommendations on how to do this in a way that meets the higher-education needs of their local or regional community.

How contentious is this issue? 

This has been called the “civil war” of our field, pitting colleague against colleague. There is a wide philosophical divide. But after much study, I think an understanding is evolving that in certain instances, for certain communities, it makes sense.

Wouldn’t Professor Wattenbarger, the architect of Florida’s community college system, consider it heresy authorizing a community college to offer four-year degrees?

Oh yes, Dr. Wattenbarger adamantly opposed this new trend, believing the baccalaureate is best provided by four-year colleges and universities. Initially, I was skeptical, too. The main worry was how the changes could affect the traditional open-access policies at community colleges. There also were concerns about community-college faculty changing their focus from teaching to research like their four-year counterparts.

Your answer implies you’ve revised your stance on state colleges. If Dr. Wattenbarger were alive today, how do you think he would react to the formation of this new state college system?

Well, I can’t speak for Jim (Wattenbarger). I will say that we both believed that knowledge can change and evolve with time. The new law requires the new four-year programs to uphold the traditional community college mission of targeting specific needs in the local work force and providing affordable open access to lower-division students. I think Jim today would take great pride that some of his UF graduates are providing the leadership in helping Florida’s community college system navigate through these complex issues.

What are usually the reasons for converting to a four-year baccalaureate program?

Florida ranks quite low in the U.S. for bachelor degrees awarded to its residents. The state colleges provide a way to expand affordable educational opportunities at a time of tight university enrollment. It’s usually driven by the specific needs of individual communities meeting local or regional workforce demands and providing access to affordable higher education that they didn’t have before.

What are the greatest threats facing the new state college system?

Some higher education leaders fear state colleges won’t hold true to the values and culture of the comprehensive community college mission. Current legislation prohibits the new state colleges from granting graduate degrees. But as these institutions mature, human nature makes it almost a given that future state leaders or college trustees will eventually try to change that because of the prestige associated with graduate studies and the accompanying research activities and money that research grants can generate. Adding the graduate education component would dramatically change the whole culture of a baccalaureate college. It’s a transformation that has come to be known as mission creep.

What impact is the community college expansion having on the students and programs at UF’s College of Education?

Much of the impact is quite positive. The new state college system brings new career options for our doctoral students in higher education administration. Choices are a wonderful thing to have in life. We help our students find the right fit whether it’s working in the open-access community or state colleges, the regional universities or private colleges, or the larger research universities. Our current doctoral students are already conducting vital research on this issue that will position them as potential leaders in this field once they graduate.

Any impact on other UF education programs? 

With the new state colleges focusing on baccalaureate degrees for high-need occupations such as teaching, health care and public safety, we may have fewer students choosing the traditional path to teacher preparation at UF through our ProTeach program. We don’t know this for sure, but this is a trend we’ll be studying. UF’s recent budget callback is already limiting our undergraduate and transfer-student enrollment. Since we are an AAU-designated research university, our College is already placing heightened emphasis on graduate studies, which makes sense under (UF) President (Bernie) Machen’s stated mission for the university. This may further clarify our research mission. We in Higher Education Administration stand ready to assist our College leaders as they examine these issues.