Florida’s 11 state universities (soon to be 12) are not one-size-fits-all. That was part of Chancellor Frank Brogan’s message as he spent most of Monday afternoon before the Blue Ribbon Task Force on State Higher Education Reform.
He used a lot of jargon – “devolution,” “delivery systems,” “performance funding” – to explain what the Board of Governors and others are trying to change within the State University System.
StateImpact Florida sorted through the buzzwords and the bureaucratese to find the three things Brogan wants to accomplish:
1. Align the universities to work closely together and focus on their individual strengths. Brogan told the panel, “We are working to continue to align the needs of our system with the needs of our state.” He said each university has its own personality and should play to its strengths.
Brogan said communication is crucial among university leaders. He wants them to hold regular meetings, keeping each other in the loop about what’s going on. He said they should be looking for ways to be more efficient, like sharing services and facilities.
2. Craft more STEM degree programs. The Board of Governors, State Board of Education, and Florida Department of Economic Opportunity have been instructed by Gov. Rick Scott to collaborate on a statewide plan for funding and promoting STEM degrees. The idea is that the system will cater to a diverse student body while giving special attention to enhancing degree programs related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
The governor thinks STEM degrees will make for a smarter workforce, which in turn will lure high tech companies to Florida. One way the state is trying to boost STEM degrees is through performance-based funding, instead of funding universities based solely on enrollment. For now, $15-million has been set aside for up to four universities that boost their engineering and technology degree programs.
“STEM education has become one of the hottest topics, not just in Florida, but around the country,” said Brogan. “We recognize that our past has been solidly embedded in economic development in the world of agriculture and tourism and real estate and construction.
“Those are all great things, and we hope that Florida will continue to be a major player in all those areas. But now, as we all say, is the time to also find our new future in the world of a knowledge-based economy.”
3. Raise tuition to be more competitive. Finding the new future Brogan referred to will inevitably mean tuition hikes. But institutions have to weigh the ability of students to afford higher tuition.
The University of Florida (UF) has chosen to seek a 9 percent tuition increase rather than the full 15 percent allowed by state law. So, other universities hoping for the full 15 percent hike may be out of luck.
Now that UF has settled for 9 percent, Brogan said it was doubtful the Board of Governors would approve the 15 percent hike requests at next week’s meeting in Orlando.
As Florida’s State University System Chancellor, Brogan oversees the country’s second-largest state university system with 325,000 students. Members of the Blue Ribbon panel heard from Brogan as they try to craft higher ed recommendations for the governor.