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Senate ready to rein-in 4-year degrees at state colleges

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Florida’s 28 colleges, pushed by state lawmakers to offer four-year degrees, may have grown to where they are now an obstacle to state efforts to have a top-ranked university system, Senate Budget Chief Joe Negron said Wednesday.

Negron, backed by other top senators, said lawmakers this spring will attempt to reverse a decade-long drive to expand the reach of the college system. He said there is only so much state money to go around, and state leaders are already committed to having Florida’s 12 public universities compete for prestige with the likes of North Carolina, California and other acclaimed systems.

“There needs to be…lines of demarcation,” Negron said of the relationship between colleges and universities. “So we’re not trying to do the same thing in two different settings. They both have important roles to play.”

Negron said colleges provide a key role in Florida. For many students, they are a lower-cost alternative to universities for those seeking new job skills or academic credentials.

But with bachelor’s degrees now offered in 500 programs at Florida colleges, higher education dollars have become fragmented with universities struggling to maintain curriculum and keep and attract professors.

“As you travel around the state, you’re seeing too many state colleges that instead of the four-year degrees being part of what they do, that’s now become the focus,” Negron said. “That’s the advertising. That’s what they’re trying to create as their brand.”

Scott chides Obama for being late to higher-ed cost cutting

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013 by John Kennedy

Rick Scott chided the Obama administration Thursday for being late to a drive the Republican governor has tried to lead in Florida — lowering the cost of university tuition.

Speaking at the University of Buffalo, President Obama announced plans Thursday for a federal rating system that would allow parents to compare the cost and quality of colleges. The proposal, which likely faces a tough road through Congress, also would tie the distribution of $150 billion in federal aid to students to this rating system.

“The president is certainly late to the party on making higher education more affordable, but we are glad he’s here,” Scott said.

Scott has condemned rising university tuition in Florida but only this year managed to put the brakes on what had been almost 20 straight years of tuition increases. A 1.7 percent automatic, cost-of-living increase was the only hike allowed at most schools this year — after double-digit hikes dominated last year.

Last year, however, the hefty tuition hikes were largely forced by a $300 million cut universities were forced to shoulder in a budget signed by Scott.

The governor also said the White House could learn from other steps Florida has taken, including the introduction of a handful of $10,000 degree programs at the state’s two-dozen colleges.

“We are focused on improving the value of higher education for students and parents by fighting tuition hikes and rewarding schools that graduate students who get jobs,” Scott said. “Just this year, we passed a budget that included $20 million in performance funding for universities tied to graduates who find jobs, the salary of those jobs, and the cost of their degree.

“Florida is taking the lead in making higher education more affordable and the nation is starting to follow,” he concluded.

Congressional reaction to Obama’s plan broke along party lines, with many Republicans skeptical of the rating system. Among the harsher critics: Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who clearly didn’t view the plan the same as his state’s governor.

“I’m strongly opposed to his plan to impose new federal standards on higher education institutions,” Rubio said. “This is a slippery slope, and one that ends with the private sector inevitably giving up more of its freedom to innovate and take risks.

“The U.S. did not create the best higher education system in the world by using standards set by Washington bureaucrats,” Rubio said.


Scott creates ‘Blue Ribbon’ panel to revamp higher ed

Friday, May 4th, 2012 by Dara Kam

After vetoing a tuition increase for FSU and UF, signing off on a controversial new state university and axing $300 million from the universities’ budgets, Gov. Rick Scott launched a possible remake of Florida’s higher ed system with a new “Blue Ribbon” panel announced today.

“The state has a vested interest in ensuring its higher education system produces world-class talent to serve as engaged citizens and meet the demands of Florida’s emerging knowledge-based economy. It’s time to assess the progress of prior reform efforts and identify strategies to improve efficiencies and enhance the system’s effectiveness as an economic catalyst.” Scott said in a statement announcing the “Blue Ribbon Task Force on State Higher Education Reform.”

Dale Brill, president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation, will chair the seven-member panel. The other six members will be chosen by House and Senate leaders and Board of Governors Chairman Dean Colson and Vice Chairman Mori Hosseini. The panel is slated to deliver its recommendations to Scott in November.

Scott last week vetoed a measure that would have given the University of Florida and Florida State University the ability to raise tuition as high as they want. The university presidents insisted the unprecedented authority was necessary to bring tuition at the institutions more in line with the higher-ed market.

But in his veto message, Scott said schools first need to reduce costs and administrative salaries and prove that their degrees equate to jobs for students.

State university system Chancellor Frank Brogan said Florida’s already “traveling toward a new frontier of accountability” and he hopes the Blue Ribbon panel will rely on work already done by the Board of Governors that will create “the most accountable public university system” in the nation.

“In particular, the Board’s Strategic Plan and Annual Accountability Report provide more than 60 System-wide comparative data points at-a-glance. I am confident that these products taken together can provide the strongest possible foundation for this group’s discussion,” Brogan said in a statement.

Board of Governors Chairman Dean Colson reacted with a cautious response that stopped short of an endorsement.

“Additional support for Florida’s public universities is always welcomed, especially if it accelerates the achievement of the Board’s goals and metrics for our university system,” Colson said in a statement. “During the past two years, the Board of Governors has laid out a comprehensive vision through three significant work products: a new 2025 Strategic Plan1, transformed metrics in the Annual Accountability Report2, and a three-year work plan template3 that each university will present annually. We look forward to a meaningful dialogue that bolsters a shared vision for the State University System.”

House approves tuition hikes for UF and FSU

Friday, March 2nd, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Florida House signed off on a plan to allow Florida State University and the University of Florida to set higher tuition than the state’s nine other public universities in a move to boost the two institutions’ national prominence.

The passage of the bill (HB 7129) is the latest effort in a decades-long attempt to create a tiered university system, something GOP leaders say is necessary for Florida’s higher ed system to compete with other states’ universities.

The bill allows research universities that meet certain standards – right now, UF and FSU – to charge higher tuition and fees than the other universities and also authorizes those universities to establish required courses for certain students.

Critics of the plan, which the House passed 85-28, say the hikes impose too much of a financial burden on already cash-strapped poor students.

California has seven Association of American Universities “pre-eminent” research universities, while Florida has just one, the bill sponsor Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, said.

“That’s shameful,” Proctor, the chancellor of the private Flagler College and a former member of the state Board of Education. Proctor said his plan will help Florida compete for businesses who want to relocate to regions with premiere research universities.

“Nothing is as important to economic recovery to this state as what you do to the state universities,” Proctor said.

Tuition at UF, FSU and three other universities has climbed 60 percent over the past four years, and 45 percent at five other schools, including Florida Atlantic University. Universities can seek as much as a 15 percent tuition hike each year but require approval for the increases from the universities’ Board of Governors, which has not rejected any university’s tuition request.

Rep. Dwight Bullard, a teacher, called the measure irresponsible.

“If we’re supposed to be up here looking out for the best interests of our constituents, we can’t go about doing tuition increases that large,” Bullard, D-Miami, said.

Scott says ‘no’ to tuition hikes

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday that he’s ready to put the brakes on tuition hikes for college and university students across Florida.

“I don’t believe in tuition hikes,” Scott said. 

He added, “We have to do what the private sector has done, what every family has done. We have to tighten our belts to see how we can save money. That’s the first thing I want to focus on: How do we reduce our costs, rather than how do we raise tuition.”

Last week, 300 Florida university students rallied at the Capitol to oppose what looks like another push by the Legislature to approve a tuition increase. Tuition at five Florida universities has climbed 60 percent over the past four years, while students at the other six public universities have weathered a 45 percent boost in that time.

The presidents of the University of Florida and Florida State University earlier this month urged a House committee to give schools authority to begin charging higher tuition for science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs — the STEM degrees that Scott says are the path to employment in the evolving economy.

The House budget committee Wednesday looks set to approve another potential 15 percent boost in university tuition as part of its $69 billion state spending plan. College tuition would climb 8 percent, under the plan.

Florida’s tuition has been climbing even as state support for universities has dropped 24 percent since 2008, shifting more school costs onto students and their families. The state’s tuition remains the 45th lowest rate in the country.

But while universities have been cutting programs to reduce costs, Scott thinks more reductions can be made at the administrative level.

Six-figure salaries paid to high-level administrators seem to have endured Florida’s prolonged economic slump. Over the past year, they’ve become a rallying point at campus protests.

“I want the cost of living in this state to be lower than other states, I don’t want it to be higher than other states,” Scott said. “Would you think that way in business? You’d wouldn’t say, ‘Oh, gosh. The other business, it costs them more to do things, so let me raise my prices.’ You don’t do that. You figure out, how can we be efficient.” 



Lights dim on Bright Futures

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011 by John Kennedy

A House panel advanced a plan Wednesday that dims the lights on the state’s popular Bright Futures scholarship program — making the merit-based college aid harder to get and less lucrative for students and their parents.

As part of spending cuts coursing through most state programs, top tier Bright Futures recipients would have to earn a 1300 SAT score, up from 1280 now. Second-tier “medallion” students also would need a 1270 SAT, up from 1020 currently, under the House’s $5.7 billion college and university budget proposal.

Community service hours needed to qualify for the scholarships also would be bumped up, according to the House approach.

Bright Futures’ overall allocation would be cut 15 percent, or $33.8 million. With the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee also authorizing tuition hikes of as much as 15 percent, parents will be digging deeper for Florida college costs next fall. (more…)

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