Affordability, accountability the focus of Florida Senate's higher education agenda
Florida Sen. Bill Galvano filed two major components of the Senate’s higher education plan on Wednesday, highlighting college affordability, accountability and on-time graduation, among a litany of other goals.
The bills, which come a day after Gov. Rick Scott outlined his higher education priorities for the coming Legislative session, share in Scott’s push for a more affordable path to graduation, but diverge in some of the details.
Senate Bill 2, the “Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act,” would expand financial assistance for students and establish tuition and fee incentives for universities. It would expand the highest level of the merit-based Bright Futures scholarship program to cover the entire cost of tuition and fees — including summer classes — for top achievers, called “academic scholars.” Those students would also get $300 for textbooks and other expenses in the fall and spring terms.
Senate leaders estimate a $151 million cost for the expansion. Of about 94,000 Bright Futures awardees projected for 2017-2018, about 45,000, or just under half, would likely qualify as academic scholars. That includes both initial recipients and renewals.
Scott, however, is championing a different expansion of Bright Futures. He’d like to see the program cover the cost of summer classes for all Bright Futures students (not just for top achievers).
Senate Bill 2 would also expand other scholarships, streamline 2+2 articulation and strengthen accountability measures for colleges and universities.
Senate Bill 4 gives universities more financial leverage to recruit and keep “star faculty,” improve professional and graduate schools (especially in the fields of medicine, law and business), and address aging infrastructure and research labs. It also asks universities to identify internship opportunities for students so they can learn from experts and get jobs in high-demand fields.
“This package of policy enhancements and funding investments will elevate the prominence of our state universities and increase their ability to compete as national destination institutions, while preserving access and increasing affordability for Floridians,” Sen. Galvano, R-Bradenton and chair of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on higher education, said in a news release.
Senate president Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said the proposals are a worthy investment for Florida taxpayers who want to see Florida students attend Florida schools, then graduate into high-demand fields that fuel local economies.
“These bills are key components of a comprehensive higher education agenda that will boost the strength and competitiveness of our state’s higher education system as our primary economic engine to drive vibrant, sustainable economic development and growth in high-paying jobs,” he said in a statement.
Here are more details on Senate Bill 2, according to Senate leadership:
Expanding student financial aid and support: Beyond Bright Futures, SB 2 expands the Benacquisto Scholar Program to benefit qualified out-of-state students and revises the First Generation Matching Grant Program to provide two to one (state to local match versus one to one).
Tuition and fee incentives: Universities must implement a block tuition policy, specifying an in-state and out-of-state block tuition rate for full-time undergrads. This policy must be approved by university trustees and the Board of Governors, to be implemented by fall 2018.
2+2 articulation: Each community college must execute at least one 2+2 targeted pathway articulation agreement by the 2018-19 academic year. Students who meet certain requirements must be guaranteed access to the state university and baccalaureate degree program. Also, district school boards must notify students and parents about how college credits generated in high school will apply towards a college degree. The goal here is improved retention and four-year graduation rates.
- Accountability measures: Universities must focus their efforts on reducing the time (and cost) of getting students to on-time, four-year degree completion. To incentivize this goal, the state will tighten its graduation rate expectations to four-year rates, instead of six-year rates, for performance-based funding programs. It will also scrap preeminent universities’ authority for a six-credit set of “unique courses” that consume time and money for non-transferable credit. Performance metrics in the state college system will also change, tightening graduation rate metrics to 100 percent (versus 150 percent) of normal-time completion. State colleges will also have a college affordability metric, and job placement metrics must be based on wage thresholds that reflect the degree or certificate added value.