The percentage of students who are black has declined at Florida universities since then-Gov. Jeb Bush eliminated race-based admission policies in 2000. Universities say there are too few black students on campus. But, the percentage of Hispanic students has more than doubled over the same period.
As a physics professor at one of Florida’s public universities, I am always looking for ways to encourage students and their parents to take on the challenge of majoring in science or engineering in college.
A few weeks ago, I visited with parents of middle and high school students who attend a science-oriented school near downtown Orlando. The parents wanted to know how to keep their kids on track for science and engineering careers. I told them that their kids should keep taking math and science courses – including calculus and physics – all the way through high school.
And then I shared what I think are the two most important things for future scientists and engineers (and their parents) to look for in a college. One is classroom instruction that actively engages students and is based on studies on how students learn best. The second is the opportunity for students to get involved in cutting-edge scientific research programs early in their undergraduate years.
Three months ago Kent Fuchs became president of the University of Florida, leaving New York’s Cornell University.
Fuchs says Florida universities are adding new faculty, but opposition to higher tuition means more pressure to find private donations.
The University of Florida is also expanding a new online program, with a goal of eventually enrolling 24,000 students.
Fuchs sat down with WLRN’s StateImpact Florida reporter John O’Connor to talk about the issues in higher education.
Q: Tell us a little bit about the state right now. You’ve been here three months. What have you learned so far? Where do you think things are? And where do you think they’re going?
A: When I look at the national landscape, the University of Florida, and indeed the state universities across our state, are in a different place than many of our peers.
The Florida Senate is requiring an outside review of the state’s new Florida Standards Assessments exam before the results can be used to judge school or teacher performance. So far, the House has refused to support a similar proposal.
The time it’s taking publishers to produce Common Core-aligned textbooks is giving independent groups an open door to create curriculum for schools. Some schools are choosing free, web-based curriculum written by non-profits over traditional textbooks.
A majority of Florida students say they prefer computerized tests to paper and pencil tests. Florida has used computerized online exams since 2011, and this year is introducing the Florida Standards Assessments.
The federal government should ban overdraft fees for financial accounts established through a partnership between banks and colleges and universities, according to a new report from the Center for Responsible Lending.
Those overdraft fees can cost students hundreds of dollars a year — more than books — on accounts often set up to handle financial aid payments.
The review included two schools in Florida with bank partnerships: the University of Central Florida and Miami Dade College. UCF partners with Fairwinds Credit Union, which charges $35 per overdraft while Miami Dade College partners with Higher One. Some Higher One accounts charge a monthly fee but have no overdraft fees, while other accounts charge up to $38 per overdraft.
About 40 percent of young adults said they overdrew their account at least twice per year. The heaviest offenders, 11 percent of young adults surveyed, said they overdrew their account 19 times per year — or $665 in overdraft fees under the terms of a UCF Fairwinds Credit Union account.
Students could avoid those charges if banks declined the debit charges rather than charging overdraft fees, sometimes several in a day before students know their account is overdrawn.
Testing experts say the problems Florida’s has had with its new statewide exam so far are likely not serious enough for the state to consider throwing out this year’s test scores on the Florida Standards Assessments.
Earlier this month a software problem meant students had trouble logging onto the writing exam for several days, and some students who did sign in to the exam were booted out of the system. Later, hackers tried to shut down the exam by swamping test severs with traffic.
Those glitches have led some lawmakers and parents to ask for a return to paper and pencil exams. But those same testing experts say Florida shouldn’t abandon computer-based tests at the same time classroom lessons are becoming more high tech.
“The startup problems that Florida had do not seem to reach a place where you would have to throw out the results,” said Doug McRae, who retired as an executive with curriculum and testing company McGraw-Hill. “I would recommend that you would really need to have upwards of 10 percent of the population affected by problems before you have to seriously consider not using the results.”
But Senate Education committee chairman John Legg says it’s not that simple.
What the committee actually did, Legg says, is put the responsibility on school districts whether students stay in 3rd grade or move to 4th grade. So some students with the lowest scores on the state language arts exam could still be retained this year.
“They asked us to trust them,” Legg says of the request from school district leaders.
Florida law requires 3rd grade students earning the lowest score on the state reading test spend another year in 3rd grade to improve their reading. Students can get an exemption from the requirement by submitting a portfolio of their work, through alternative test scores or other methods.
Nearly one in five Florida 3rd graders were at risk of being held back because of low scores on the state reading test last year.
The bill requires an outside group to make sure the state test results are statistically valid.
Sen. David Simmons says he wants to make sure schools and the state can depend on Florida Standards Assessments results before making big decisions using those results.
“Common sense says that we need to ensure that this test that is being administered is, in fact, psychometrically valid,” Simmons says. “This amendment does that.”