Community-college officials say they might have to cut or restrict dual-enrollment programs if the Florida Legislature does not provide more money for the program that allows high-school students to take courses for free at public colleges and universities.
College administrators have become increasingly frustrated about having to absorb the tuition and fees that are not charged to the tens of thousands of teenagers who enroll each year in college courses, mostly at the community colleges.
Higher-education institutions lost $58 million in tuition and fees last school year alone, according to an analysis by the state's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability.
College leaders say shortfalls in state funding already have left them struggling to accommodate their regular, paying students. Meanwhile, the number of Florida high-school students taking dual-enrollment classes has mushroomed from about 19,300 students in 2001-02 to about 49,300 in 2011-12.
"We can't continue to operate with essentially no revenue for those students," Valencia College President Sandy Shugart recently told the school's board of trustees.
Shugart said that Florida college presidents have discussed offering lawmakers a proposal for improving funding. If changes are not made this legislative session, Valencia and other colleges could take drastic measures, he indicated.
"If the state says no, we can say we tried, and now we're going to have to ration [the program] at a very severe level," Shugart said.
Joe Pickens, chairman of the community colleges' Council of Presidents, said more schools might begin limiting courses — as Lake-Sumter State College in Leesburg did last year.
In August, Lake-Sumter began restricting dual-enrollment students to two free courses per semester. Previously, students could take as many classes as they wanted, with some completing associate degrees at the same time they earned their high-school diplomas.
"I think every college will have to examine that issue, as Lake-Sumter did last year," said Pickens, who is also president of St. Johns River State College in Palatka. "It is something we all hope to avoid having to do."