TALLAHASSEE /Florida Newswire/ — Governor Charlie Crist today, during the Florida Association of Community Colleges’ Annual Legislative Summit, honored the presidents and trustees of Florida’s 28 colleges for their important role in training the state’s workforce to better meet employment needs and fuel economic recovery. Today’s meeting followed a reception held last night at the Governor’s Mansion, paying tribute to each college’s continued commitment to open access and their service as a source of postsecondary opportunity for every Floridian.

“Florida’s colleges play a unique and vital role in our state by providing an affordable education to students in all walks of life who want to develop, retool, refine and broaden their skills,” said Governor Crist. “Because of their ability to respond to local labor market needs, our colleges are uniquely positioned to prepare workers for high-demand, high-wage occupations that are critical to Florida’s economic recovery.”

Last week, as part of his 2010-11 budget priorities, Governor Crist recommended $2 billion to support Florida’s 28 community colleges, including a $67-million increase to meet rising enrollment. The Governor’s budget proposal also includes $9.5 million to maintain bachelor’s degree programs offered by colleges within the Florida College System. Currently, 14 of 28 Florida colleges offer more than 85 baccalaureate degree programs. Recommendations in the Governor’s budget also include $6 million for operational costs at new facilities, $13.7 million for costs associated with retirement benefits, and $96.8 million in continued funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

In addition to outlining his budget recommendations, Governor Crist recently called on Florida’s Talent Supply Chain – the Board of Governors, Agency for Workforce Innovation, Department of Education and Workforce Florida – to embrace a new era of collaboration by formally partnering with Florida’s business leaders to develop a strategic plan to ensure Florida’s workforce is equipped to meet the demands of a global, knowledge-based economy of the 21st century. The shared strategy will ensure students can access educational opportunities and gain skills that will increase Florida’s economic competitiveness.

Florida’s colleges remain the primary point of access to higher education in Florida, with 58 percent of the state’s high school graduates pursuing postsecondary education beginning at a Florida college, and 81 percent of freshman and sophomore minority students in public higher education attending one of Florida’s 28 colleges.

“Florida’s future depends on having a well educated and highly trained workforce,” said Education Commissioner Dr. Eric J. Smith. “I am proud of the work the Florida College System is accomplishing to ensure that workforce demands are being met.”

For the seventh year in a row, Florida’s colleges continue to set a national example in the number of associate degrees awarded. According to Community College Week’s annual Top 10 report conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, Florida colleges are among the country’s top producers of associate degrees, the number of associate degrees awarded to minority students and the number of associate degrees awarded in the health professions and related sciences fields.

Despite the current economic challenges, Florida’s colleges continue to have an open-door admission policy, serving more than 845,000 students in 2009, an increase of 9.6 percent from the previous year. Early enrollment indicators also predict a robust year for college campuses throughout the state in 2010. In addition to enrolling a majority of the state’s prior year high school graduates who go on to postsecondary education, the state’s colleges are the institution of choice for many veterans taking advantage of the new GI Bill and for adult learners looking to bolster their personal and professional skills or prepare for a new career.

The Division of Florida Colleges provides dynamic leadership within the Florida College System and works to promote education innovation and continuous improvement that fuels economic development for the state and its citizens. For more information about the Florida College System, visit