SEBRING - South Florida State College is actively developing new general education courses in five areas of studies as required by the legislature last year and expected to be implemented at SFSC campuses in fall 2015.
The idea is to bring consistency to general education courses across the state, be they at state colleges or universities.
Kimberly Batty-Herbert, SFSC dean of arts and sciences, said faculty members are in the process of developing several new courses, which typically could take six to 12 months, and go through a lengthy review process.
She welcomed the change, saying the consistency is important and long overdue.
"Offering the same core, general education courses makes for a smoother alignment for colleges and therefore ease of transfer for students," she said.
The changes in the courses are part of a larger overhaul among Florida's 28 state colleges the Legislature mandated last year.
Next fall, associate-degree seeking students also will be placed in meta-major academic pathways - a grouping of majors or a broader field of study - based on their academic and career choices and abilities.
Students' associate's in arts or science degrees will remain the same, explained Batty-Herbert.
They will be placed in a meta-major, described as a collection of academic programs that have common or related fields of study. Public safety, for instance, is one of eight meta-majors the state has approved. Health sciences is another.
The idea is to advise students and place them in a meta-major that fits their career or academic goals and ability so they can enter college credit courses as quickly as possible, the Florida Department of Education explains.
Students will still be required to meet the "proficiencies" for the meta-major, Batty-Herbert said.
"Some may need to take the developmental courses (college prep or remedial courses), and advising will be an important safeguard for students to be placed in those courses where they can experience success based on their test scores or other evidence such as high school GPA," she added.
The eight meta-majors approved are the following: arts, humanities, communication and design; business; education; health sciences; industry/manufacturing and construction; public safety; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; and social and behavioral sciences and human career.
National education groups have pushed meta-majors to increase the percentage of students earning college degrees or certificates.
"One of the things that the Legislature has long been concerned about - and by the way, so have educators - is students getting into the system and then just wandering," Jim Wysong, dean of math and science at Hillsborough Community College's Dale Mabry campus, told stateimpactmedia.
According to a study, between 34 to 37 percent of full-time, first-time in college students completed their two-year degree in three years and just 2 percent in two years
"By engaging in the meta-major selection process, the hope is that students will start college more knowledgeable about the academic programs, career options and opportunities for continuing education available to them to maximize their prospects of earning a degree," states Florida College Access Network.
S.B. 1720 also makes the college placement test voluntary for many students. Florida high school graduates who entered ninth grade in a Florida public school in 2003-04 and thereafter or active duty military can opt out of taking the college placement test.
Many students who enroll in Florida community colleges cannot be forced to take remedial reading, writing and math courses.
Likewise, students who earn target scores on the SAT, ACT or the FCAT can use those scores to prove they do not need remedial courses, stateimpactmedia explains.
However, while not required, state colleges are still recommending students take the placement exam and take remedial classes, if needed.
Since the college placement test or the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test is now voluntary for many students, SFSC advisors are having to spend more time with students to review their GPA and FCAT scores, Batty-Herbert explained.
"It is a challenge for our advisers," she said. "They have to spend more time with each student. Advising has become so much more important and so much more intensive."
These changes will impact a number of high school graduates who attend SFSC as first-time, college-bound students.
According to figures the college has provided, the numbers have gone up among students from Highlands County who are college-bound and attending SFSC.
In 2011-12, 86.75 percent of college-bound high school graduates from Avon Park attended SFSC. The 2012-13 figure was 96.30 percent.
For Sebring, the number moved up from 80.47 percent in 2011-12 to 86.36 percent in 2012-13.
Lake Placid's also went up from 68.97 percent in 2011-12 to 78.67 percent the following year.
SFSC's incoming freshmen are required to take a mandatory half-a-day orientation that teaches them everything from computer skills to all the services on campus.
Degree-seeking freshmen also have to take an eight-week, one credit class that teaches them, among other things,test taking strategies.
The response from the faculty has been positive, Batty-Herbert said.
"The faculty are saying students are coming (to class) more prepared," she added.