Brittany Davis Wise
TRANSCRIPT: State of the System Address
As I enter my second year as Chair, I’m excited about what we’ve accomplished and where we’re headed. This Board has come a long way since its first meeting in January of 2003 when it became the governing body for the State University System. In the run up to 2003, Florida experienced a number of higher education governance transitions. There was uncertainty – both inside Florida and outside as well -- about the direction of higher education and, in particular, what this Board could achieve where others had failed.
In 2003, this was a brand new Board, entrusted with the responsibility of providing a high quality education for our students and being accountable to our stakeholders. Because of a passion for our students, this Board embraced that responsibility and has worked with the universities and boards of trustees to change the landscape of higher education in Florida.
We’ve come a long way from being viewed as a university system without a plan, to one that other systems across the country seek to emulate. So how did we do that?
We created an environment that is leading to greater student success and more accountability. We developed a framework that does three things: it effectively plans for future success, it measures performance; and it incentivizes year-over-year improvements.
The framework consists of a strategic plan, the university work plans, the annual accountability report, and performance funding. This is unique to Florida and other states are taking note. Our accountability report was heralded by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni as a “model for transparency and accountability” in its 2015 report on “Bold Leadership, Real Reform.”
Today, we need to celebrate the incredible success of our students and thank the presidents, the boards of trustees, the faculty, and our students for working with us to bring about that success. Together, we’re changing the culture of higher education in Florida.
But enough about history, let’s take a minute to review how we’ve done in three key areas: aligning degrees to match high-skilled jobs, elevating our system’s research profile, and increasing access and affordability.
First, aligning degrees to match high-skilled workforce needs is a high priority for our system. Students should be graduating with degrees that provide them with the skills to engage in meaningful productive work. In looking at how we can improve on preparing students to enter the workforce, we’ve asked two questions: (1) are our students equipped with the skills they need to step into high-skilled jobs, and (2) are we offering degree programs that align with those needs?
Performance funding continues to serve as an incentive for universities to offer degrees that align with high-skilled jobs, especially in programs of strategic emphasis and STEM. Last session, the Legislature allocated $500M for performance funding. Performance funding works because it changes behavior at the institutional level. As a result of performance funding, we’ve seen baccalaureate STEM degrees grow by 31 percent and graduate STEM degrees grow by 17 percent – as compared to only a 5 percent growth in non-STEM baccalaureate degrees and no growth in non-STEM graduate degrees. So that’s a major step in the right direction.
Universities have made meaningful changes to align degrees to jobs and I’d like to highlight a few: At FAU, they’re focused on increasing job placements from their top two degree programs by offering professional development workshops and preparation courses for licensure exams in accounting and elementary education. At FSU, degree programs in Public Health and Aerospace Engineering have been expanded to align with the job market. At UF, the three top occupation categories for students employed or receiving job offers from the 2015-16 graduating class are all from programs of strategic emphasis or disciplines identified in the Workforce Gap Analysis. At UCF, with the aid of a Team grant, the College of Engineering and Computer Science created initiatives to increase the number of Computer Science graduates – also an occupation identified in our Gap Analysis. The universities also redoubled their efforts to match students with employment opportunities and ensure they’re better prepared to enter the workforce. For example: New College implemented a career readiness program that provides students with their own career coaches to track the students’ progress toward their career objectives, and USF implemented “My Plan – My Pathways” that’s required of all first-time-in-college and transfer students, which helps students match degrees to occupational pathways.
So how do we build on these strengths? One way is to broaden our outreach to the business community and business associations. We should expand the scope of our Think Florida initiative to work even more closely with Florida businesses on student placement and employment. Throughout the year, we’ll hear from business leaders on the skill sets they’re looking for and what we can do to better meet their employment needs. In March, we’ll talk with Mark Wilson of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Chris Hart of Enterprise Florida.
We need to engage the trustees as well, so the focus of this year’s Trustee Summit will be “A Higher Degree for Business.” We’ll bring business leaders and business organizations together with the trustees to get their input on how we’re doing and what we can do better. This is an area we can improve on and it’s critical to the future employability of our graduates. While it’s up to the students to get the job, we can do everything in our power to make sure they’ve got the skills to hit the ground running and open the door to as many job opportunities as possible.
Second, part of the mission of the State University System and what’s become a major focus of discussion is research. To be a premier system, our faculty must engage in meaningful research that leads to solving real-world challenges on a much larger scale than we are currently doing.
Over the last year, for the first time, we started having conversations with our Vice Presidents for Research on what we can do to make the state more competitive. The first step is to recruit and equip talented researchers. To that end, we’re seeking significant state funding to make strategic cluster hires in areas of local, national, and international importance and help us build world-class research teams at our universities. As we move into the legislative session, it’s essential to secure funding for these critical initiatives if we’re going to elevate our game.
By focusing on research, we’ve achieved success over the last year. In September, FAMU received a $15.4M award from NOAA to establish the Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems as the lead institution in conjunction with five partner universities.
Our two preeminent universities, the University of Florida and Florida State University, are working hard to contribute to our research portfolio. This year, UF received a grant of nearly $10M from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a five-year project to explore the occupational health and safety of people working in agriculture, fishing and forestry in Florida and other southern states.
And recently, FSU was awarded $10M from the U.S. Department of Energy to create a new Energy Frontier Research Center. The Center will focus on accelerating scientific efforts for nuclear waste cleanup at Cold-war era weapon production sites -- a top priority for the Department of Energy.
Perhaps most importantly, we’re at the forefront of cutting edge research into a public health issue that impacts Florida. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded a $10M grant to UF in partnership with USF, FIU and the University of Miami to find solutions for stopping the spread of Zika. By leveraging the expertise of these four prestigious universities, Florida is poised to make the next major breakthrough in halting the spread of this disease.
Going forward, we must intensify our efforts to maximize the system’s research potential if Florida is to move up in the national rankings. I think we are on the right path, especially if we can invest the resources necessary to take us to the next level.
Third, increasing access to postsecondary degrees and making sure a higher education is affordable for students and their families is a top priority. Florida’s 2+2 articulation program is a major pipeline for access to our universities. There are over 800,000 students in the Florida College System. And for those who earn an Associate in Arts degree and want to continue their education, our goal is to make it as simple as possible for them to navigate the university system and succeed.
Our Select Committee on 2+2 Articulation, under the leadership of Governors Levine and Link, has identified four areas we need to work on before we can declare victory. We need to: facilitate the academic transition from a state college to a university;streamline the admissions process; assist with the cultural transition to a university; and expand the type of information we collect to determine why some A.A. graduates don’t apply, and why some who are accepted don’t actually enroll.
The Committee has identified potential solutions and will bring this in for a landing this year. If we can implement solutions to address these four issues, we’ll have made significant progress toward increasing access for thousands of eligible Florida College students who want to pursue a university degree.
Another mechanism for increasing access is expanding our online programs. This will help us meet the Higher Education Coordinating Council’s goal for 55 percent of Floridians to hold a high-quality postsecondary credential by 2025. During my remarks last year, I indicated that in two years, we needed the basic infrastructure in place to promote quality in our online education offerings. We’re on track to meet that challenge.
This past year, staff throughout the system were determining how to best implement tactics related to quality, access, and affordability in the 2025 Strategic Plan for Online Education. These tactics include enhancing professional development opportunities, sharing online courses and online student support services, and ensuring the development of quality online courses. These plans or, in some cases, recommendations will come forward to the Innovation and Online Committee in March, and others will be completed during the upcoming year.
We should be proud of what we’ve accomplished, but there’s still much to be done. Students, and more specifically the success of our students, will always be our number one priority. There’s a lot of talk about four-year graduation rates. Getting a degree in four years is a win – for our students, for businesses who employ our students, and for our State. We need to work harder to increase the number of students who can meet the Governor’s challenge to “Finish in Four.”
One way to increase the number of students who can graduate in four years is funding Bright Futures scholarships during the summer. We’ve endorsed this concept as a Board and we fully support the Governor’s and the Legislature’s efforts to make this a reality for our students.
Finally, keeping our students safe and being able to respond to the growing need for mental health services are critical to maintaining a positive learning environment. We’re asking for increased funding for our Campus Safety and Security and Mental Health Counseling Services initiatives, which are important for enhancing the safety and well-being of our students and for giving them the best chance for success.
I hope all of you will join me in working with our state’s leadership to keep these issues front and center as we move through the upcoming legislative session. Thank you.