Prior to 3/5/2008 the newsclips are available in a PDF archive.
News Clips 08/23/2010
Florida Puts Little Investment into its Universities
Source: The Miami Herald, 08/22/10
View Original Article
By Matthew Haggman and Michael Vasquez
When the University of Miami was recently crowned the top university in Florida by U.S. News & World Report, it was reason to celebrate. But the U's leapfrogging over upstate rival University of Florida in the rankings has underscored a concern.
Namely, the rating decline of Florida's flagship public university is a reminder of the relatively meager investment the state is making in its institutions of higher learning.
To be sure, U.S. News & World Report's annual rankings are an oft-criticized measure of school performance. But there are plenty of other indicators that highlight the state's poor record at a time when it's widely acknowledged Florida's future hinges in large part on the success of its publicly funded universities and colleges.
``State funding for higher education has been on a precipitous decline since 2006-2007,'' said Eduardo Padron, Miami Dade College's president, who added that he doesn't place much faith in magazine rankings.
``At Florida community or state colleges, it has been particularly significant. The forecast is not very bright, especially with the federal stimulus dollars coming to an end.''
Florida ranked 50th -- dead last -- in local and state government per capita funding for higher education in a study released in December by the National Education Association.
The state ranked 50th for all education funding, too.
In the past three years, the University of Florida has seen $158 million slashed from its state appropriation, a 25 percent reduction that has both curbed its effort to lower class sizes and necessitated an increase in tuition.
Funding for the State University System of Florida -- which comprises 11 schools, including Florida International University and Florida State University -- dropped 18 percent from 2006 to the last fiscal year, which ended in June.
``They were underfunded to start with, and then really took hits,'' said Donna Shalala, president of the University of Miami, a private institution.
In January, Gov. Charlie Crist and university system Chancellor Frank Brogan unveiled grand plans to reinvigorate and diversify Florida's economy. The reasons for the push include near-bottom income growth and a gross state product -- the value of goods and services produced in Florida -- growing slower than all but three other states.
The ``New Florida'' initiative called for the state's economic three-legged stool of tourism, agriculture and population growth to be diversified into a knowledge and information economy focused on fields like science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
At its core, the plan called for $1.75 billion in new funding for public universities over the next five years, calling the schools the ``global driver'' for Florida's economic prosperity. The proposal cited examples like the University of Washington, credited with making Seattle a technology hub, and North Carolina's university system, which led the state away from its roots as an agricultural-based economy.
To get things started, Crist and Brogan asked for a $100 million ante from the Legislature. Instead, state legislators allocated just $10 million.
``In this economic environment, we prefer to focus on what we got rather than what we didn't,'' said Kelly Layman, spokeswoman for the State University System of Florida.
Separately, state legislators have turned back efforts to give Miami-Dade County voters the chance to approve a sales tax increase that would shore up funding for community colleges -- specifically, Miami Dade College.
State funding for MDC -- the largest public institution of higher learning in the United States with more than 170,000 students -- has shrunk 19 percent in the past three years, according to Padron. Federal stimulus dollars currently account for 8 percent of the college's operating budget, but will disappear next year.
Meanwhile, mounting studies indicate that too few students are getting college educations, yet increasing numbers of jobs require a secondary degree. A study published last month by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce predicted that the portion of jobs requiring a college education will increase to between 59 and 63 percent of the economy over the next decade.
``High school graduates and dropouts will find themselves largely left behind,'' the study concluded.
Nathan Katz, an endowed professor of religious studies at FIU, says the budget ax has required him to fight for his department's very survival. The department -- thanks in part to a highly-publicized $100,000 donation by the Dalai Lama -- survived, though nearly a dozen other degree programs did not.
``Whether that's a stay of execution, nobody knows,'' said Katz, who now takes time away from teaching to help fund raise.
Katz has taught in the state university system for more than 25 years, the past 16 at FIU. In the beginning, he vowed to make every exam an essay exam and require every student to write a research paper.
But dwindling resources have led to ever-larger class sizes, Katz said. Ten years ago, he caved in to allowing multiple-choice exams, which provide quicker grading.
``When I give my students a multiple-choice exam, I feel I'm cheating them,'' Katz said. ``There's nothing I can do. Our classes are just enormous, and that's entirely a financial issue, 100 percent.''
A few more years passed, and Katz stopped requiring research papers as well.
``When I have 200 students in a class instead of 20, I can't spend the three hours for each student that it takes to grade and discuss their research,'' Katz said. ``I'm bitter about that. I'm a teacher at heart, and I cannot do the kind of job my students deserve.''