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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

BOG chairwoman says Gov. Scott's attention to higher ed is "great"



Higher education in Florida has been under the governor's microscope lately, with Rick Scott asking the state's universities to provide data on their graduates' job successes and floating reforms similar to Texas's higher ed overhaul, among other things. But "that's great," says the chairwoman of the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the state's 11 public universities.

"Some may worry about some of the comments he makes, some of the strong positions about different degree programs we offer," said Ava Parker. "But the more the governor voices those opinions, the more important our jobs become."

Parker's comments, at the board's meeting at Florida Atlantic University on Thursday, came after a presentation by University of North Florida President John Delaney, who chairs a higher education strategies work group for the board. Delaney laid out a litany of ideas for addressing Florida's higher education needs, with an emphasis on increasing programs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. 

It's worth noting that the discussion is one that the board's been having for months, as part of an effort to put together a system-wide strategic plan through 2025. The formation of that plan has been somewhat overshadowed by other breaking higher ed news (ahem, did someone say USF Poly?), but now some of its elements are getting extra attention, thanks to Scott's remarks.

Delaney said he recently met with Scott and conveyed that while job creation is a crucial part of higher education, so are universities' liberal arts programs and research.

Scott found himself in hot water last month when he said the state didn't need a whole lot more anthropologists.

The key is finding a balance, Delaney said -- keep liberal arts an important part of the equation and find ways to emphasize degrees that lead to jobs in cutting edge fields. But if that's going to happen, there likely needs to be a change in the way universities are funded. Some ideas: free up tuition-setting power for the BOG so universities could possibly charge STEM fields in relation to others, tweak the Bright Futures Scholarship Program with an emphasis on STEM, or reward effective teaching as an incentive.

"This is exactly what we were hoping for," said State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan. "Today is not meant to ask the board to totally embrace any of these issues. It's a conversation starter. Where do we go from here, now that we've started this conversation?"

The board voted to put the issue in the hands of its strategic planning committee, which will consult with the universities' individual boards of trustees. 

But before they moved on, Chris Corr, the board's newest member, voiced some concern that the discussion was too "passive."

"This is on the tip of the business community's tongue every day," Corr said. "I think if we were performing like this in my business right now, we’d be breathing much more heavy than we are around this table... Respectfully, it just feels a little lax to me."

Board member Mori Hosseini said he understood Corr's concerns, but with so many eyes on the issue, it's important to take time to sort through it thoroughly. That's what those working on the strategic plan have been working to do. 

"Whatever decision we make, somebody will show up and say, 'You didn't ask us,' " Hosseini said. "This will give us time to bring everybody to the table."

[Last modified: Thursday, November 10, 2011 2:02pm]


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