Madeline Pumariega: Florida’s colleges lead the way in affordability

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Florida’s Governor, Legislature, education leaders and trustees have had the vision and courage to freeze the cost of tuition for more than a decade, passing legislation to make college and textbooks more affordable.

They have also enacted programs such as the Open Door Grant and Last Mile to expedite the completion of short-term, high-demand career and technical education programs at Florida College System (FCS) institutions.

As the debate continues regarding the president’s student loan forgiveness announcement, students attending the Sunshine State’s community and state colleges have enjoyed high-quality educational pathways to the workforce without the burden of student loan debt.

The FCS’s 28 institutions educate nearly 700,000 students and serve as the state’s workforce engines. I witnessed the impact of these colleges on their communities as the former chancellor, and today have the honor of leading Miami Dade College (MDC).

At MDC, the largest community college in the nation and largest in the system, only 2% of our students take on debt, and those who do owe on average less than $5,000.

This story repeats itself at all our community and state colleges.

MDC also has the highest upward mobility rate among Florida public colleges and universities, and ranks fourth nationally among nonselective four-year public colleges, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

However, all of our state colleges lead in this effort. In order to be even more responsive to business and industry, state colleges expanded workforce baccalaureates starting as low as $10,000 in critical areas such as nursing, teaching and cybersecurity to provide Floridians access to affordable workforce programs for key jobs available in our communities.

MDC also offers apprenticeships in critical workforce areas through which students earn while they learn. Partners have included the automotive and aviation industries.

By providing on-the-job training, related classroom instruction and guaranteed wage structures, employers who sponsor apprentices provide incentives to attract and retain more highly qualified employees and improve productivity.

Florida is also ranked first in the nation in higher education largely due to the close collaboration between our public colleges and universities.

The 2+2 articulation agreements between colleges and universities deliver the most affordable and seamless pathways to bachelor’s degrees in emerging and in-demand workforce areas.

As the debate continues, we are fortunate in Florida to have our colleges leading the way, demonstrating that open access, quality workforce education, and affordability can be provided all at once.

So before taking on any debt, enroll at one of our great colleges and receive a first-rate, affordable education that will fast-track your career success without the burden and worry of loans.

Our state’s elected and education leaders deserve our appreciation for their foresight.

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Madeline Pumariega is president of Miami Dade College.

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