Prior to 3/5/2008 the newsclips are available in a PDF archive.
News Clips 12/10/2012
STAFF COLUMN: Scott is the ‘challenge’ for higher education in Florida
Source: Palm Beach Post, 12/9/12
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By Randy Schultz
The people who run Florida’s public colleges and universities didn’t cut $300 million from this year’s higher education budget.
The people who run Florida’s public colleges and universities didn’t approved an unneeded 12th university, which will drain money from the other, underfinanced 11.
Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature did those things. But to hear Gov. Scott, he’s not the problem with Florida’s public colleges and universities. The problem is the people who run Florida’s public colleges and universities.
His reelection date is nearly two years away, but Gov. Scott acts as if it’s two weeks away. News releases tout every bit of positive economic news, down to the arrival of new jobs at a convenience store — all because Rick Scott’s CEO approach has brought salvation to the benighted state forced to live without him until January 2011.
The governor disparaged public education during his first year in office. His first budget cut more from public schools than the Legislature did. Someone finally clued in the governor. When he signed the 2011-12 budget at the tea-party friendly pseudo-city known as The Villages, he vetoed some spending and called on the Legislature to divert the money to education. Which the Legislature couldn’t do. But we saw what was coming.
So this year’s budget contained $1 billion more for schools, or $300 million less than Gov. Scott cut last year. For next year, the governor has vowed to hold school spending at its current level. Given inflation and student growth, the schools will fall behind. Then there’s that Tallahassee-ordered “merit pay” system for teachers. If Gov. Scott is serious, he will find money for it from the state budget. If he isn’t, he will demand that local school districts find it.
Having blessed the schools with his beneficence, Gov. Scott has turned to the colleges and universities. As Tallahassee has cut and cut money for higher education, administrators have raised tuition. Gov. Scott has pledged to cut the cost of living in Florida — except when it comes to property insurance. His “vision” for higher education, which he issued in June, called for Florida to be “No. 1 in university and college affordability.”
In fact, the state has been close to that for years. University tuition ranked 45th until the recent increases, and has risen all the way to 41st. Not good enough. Two weeks ago, Gov. Scott issued his “$10,000 challenge” to the 28 state colleges, which until not long ago were two-year community colleges. The governor wants the colleges to offer a four-degree that costs no more than $10,000 — nice, round political figure — and leads to a job.
Lake Worth-based Palm Beach State College and Fort Pierce-based Indian River State College, already rank in the top 10 nationally in the U.S. Department of Education’s affordability rankings. Their average four-year degree costs between $13,500 and $14,000. But Gov. Scott by now has appointed many of the state colleges’ trustees, and would have to reappoint those who want to stay on.
So, one by one, the colleges have resolved, sort of, to meet the governor’s “challenge.” Each “acceptance” of this “challenge” produces another news release from the governor’s office. Read closer, though, and you see that Palm Beach State College President Dennis Gallon has resolved to “make a concerted effort to design” a $10,000 degree program. At Brevard State College, they “intend to start examining” $10,000 degrees. Which college will tell the governor who can cut their budgets that he’s touting a gimmick?
The universities, though, were less compliant. Last week, when the governor sought a commitment to freeze tuition next year, university presidents agreed — with a condition: Give us $118 million more than this year, and we’ll go along. The governor sent the usual news release praising the university presidents for their “commitment to hold the line on tuition.”
If Gov. Scott really wanted to shake up higher education in a productive way, he could do it. He could ask the universities how much tenured professors actually teach. My mentor at the University of Tennessee did a stint as dean, and required all professors to teach at least one freshman class. Much grumbling ensued.
The governor also could acknowledge the mistake of a decade ago when the Legislature abolished the Board of Regents, which made all decisions on new universities and new programs. The Florida State University mob in the Legislature wanted an unneeded medical school. Now, every university wants every program, and this year a powerful retiring senator wanted a university as his legacy. It will be a mediocre university, but he got it.
Last week, as Gov. Scott was pursuing his “vision” for higher education, he was having to find the third leader in barely a year for his supposedly transformational Department of Economic Opportunity. Perhaps he can blame that on the colleges and universities, too.