In the fall of 2014, more than a quarter of the students who had transferred to state universities after earning associate in arts degrees in the Florida State College System were enrolled at the University of Central Florida.
The Orlando university's ability to enroll 27.2 percent of the state college graduates contrasts sharply with Florida A&M University's enrollment of less than 1 percent of those students, a new report given to the state Board of Education on Wednesday showed.
"I was struck by the spread," said Tom Grady, a member of the education panel that oversees Florida's 28 state colleges —- formerly known as community colleges —- as well as the K-12 system.
The ability to attract state college graduates with associate degrees is one reason the University of Central Florida is the largest state university, with more than 63,000 students, and one of the largest in the nation, while Florida A&M has struggled with enrollment.
FAMU, one of the most prominent historically black universities in the nation, has seen its enrollment decline about 25 percent between the fall of 2010, when it reached a peak headcount of 13,277 students, to 9,920 students last fall. The enrollment decline has had a major financial impact on the school, with FAMU officials saying the loss of every 100 full-time students equates to a loss of $1 million in funding.
Madeline Pumariega, chancellor of the Florida State College System, said she is working with FAMU on ways to help the school attract more state-college transfer students.
That discussion is part of a larger debate involving the state Board of Education and the university system's Board of Governors on ways to improve the movement, or articulation, of students from the state college system to state universities, with the ultimate goal of earning bachelor's degrees.
The so-called "2 plus 2" system guarantees students who graduate with associate degrees from state colleges a place in the university system, although not necessarily at the universities they want to attend.
The new articulation report showed that in the 2013-14 academic year, nearly 66 percent of the high school graduates who decided to continue their higher education in Florida opted to attend state colleges. Slightly less than 30 percent went directly to state universities.
"The Florida college system is really the pathway for Florida high-school graduates," Pumariega told the Board of Education.
Many of those students go on to earn associate degrees, with the system producing more than 55,000 associate-degree graduates annually in recent years.
In 2013-14, about 30,000 of those graduates were admitted to state universities, with 25,000 deciding to attend. It's enough transfers that former state-college students constitute more than half of the juniors and seniors in Florida's university system, the report showed.
Pumariega said some students do not move on to state universities because they are "place bound," not having the means to enroll because of other responsibilities like jobs or caring for children or elders. She noted the average age of the college system's students was 26, with 65 percent of them attending part-time.
Other students are satisfied with associate degrees, with Pumariega saying surveys show those students end up in jobs averaging about $33,000 a year in salary.
"They are working in their communities as paraprofessionals, often in our school districts and for other major employers," she said.
The articulation report showed a correlation between the size of a state university and its ability to attract associate-degree graduates, with the six largest universities accounting for nearly 90 percent of the enrollments.
Behind UCF, the University of South Florida had 16.5 percent of the transfers in 2014, followed by Florida International University with 13.9 percent, Florida State University with 11.3 percent, Florida Atlantic University with 10.2 percent and the University of Florida with 9.9 percent.
Pumariega said UCF's ability to attract state college students is a matter of "intent."
UCF has been running its DirectConnect program for the last decade, which has established a relationship with local state colleges that allows students who enroll and successfully complete the requirements to transfer to UCF.
"UCF made a real intent with DirectConnect. They invested resources," Pumariega said. "They put advisers on those college campuses, so that there are UCF advisers sitting at Valencia (College) and Seminole (State College of Florida) and others advising students."
The University of South Florida recently launched a similar program, called FUSE, with agreements with seven local state colleges and the ability to expand to others in coming years.
The University of Florida has a longstanding agreement with Santa Fe College and Florida State University has a similar agreement with Tallahassee Community College.
The articulation report showed the transfer students were academically competitive with students who started at the state universities, holding a cumulative grade point average of 2.94 in 2013-14, compared to a 3.12 average for university students. State college transfers who held associate in science degrees had a 3.17 grade point average.
Data collected by the Board of Governors shows 27 percent of the associate-degree students graduate within two years of entering universities, with 68 percent graduating within four years after transferring.
"They are doing just as well as native university students," Pumariega said about the transfer students.