The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Former higher ed chancellor offers criticism on Florida system, USF Poly

11

November

Calling Florida's higher education a "splintered system," former state university system chancellor Charlie Reed on Thursday offered a harsh critique of his old stomping grounds in a speech to the Florida Council of 100.

Reed, who now leads the California system, said Florida lacks: a clear organization of its colleges and universities, a focus on economic development and a commitment to the common good. His remarks came the same day the Florida Board of Governors was meeting in Boca Raton, where they approved a new strategic plan for 2012-2025 with the goal of working out many of the issues Reed talked about.

It was also a day after the Florida board considered and delayed a bid by the University of South Florida Polytechnic to become the state's 12th university -- a bid Reed blasted. 

"That’s no place for a polytechnic university," Reed said of the Lakeland branch campus. "That’s no Silicon Valley. California has only 2 polytechnics for 38 million people – and we have Silicon Valley."

Reed said he thinks that misguided debate stemmed from a common thrust in Florida, which is to push "what the local chamber wants, not what the state needs."

"These institutions are now acting as lone players or competitors," he said.  "There’s no sense of mission because it’s every institution for itself. And there’s no incentive for them to act in Florida’s best interests."

Unlike California, Florida does not have a tiered system of three segments: the 10-campus University of California System focused on graduate degrees and research, the 23-campus California State University system that offers master's and bachelor's degrees, and the 112-campus California Community College system of two-year schools focused on technical degrees. Florida has 11 public universities and about two dozen community colleges, some of which also offer bachelor's degrees. A tiered organizational structure for Florida has been suggested in the past but not met with enough support to make it happen. 

The Board of Governors responded to Reed's comments in an e-mail, saying in a statement that "The Council of 100 knows that the Board of Governors’ record is clear in developing one of the most intensive accountability-based portfolios of performance-tracking work in the nation."

"Literally hours ago," the statement reads, "the Board members also finalized and approved the Strategic Plan update that takes us through 2025, an effort they spent months on to include national trends in higher education and best practices."

Reed's comments about economic development echoed some recent rhetoric by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who has said repeatedly that the state needs to focus its education on fields in science, technology, engineering and math, or the STEM fields. 

"We aim to produce as many STEM grads as possible. But we need the arts and humanities too. Those students are the ones that businesses look to for their creativity and problem-solving skills. The California business community has bought into higher education because of our commitment to workforce development and their workforce needs," Reed said. "We know this is what you want from your future employees too. And if you can’t find them from Florida graduates, you’ll hire from elsewhere. That’s why Florida lawmakers and policymakers have to understand the need for supporting higher education and critical skill development."

Finally, Reed said that higher education needs to also give back to the "common good."

"What about that person who is given the ability to earn a degree, then goes on to change the world?" he asked.

To achieve that, Reed said Florida must get better at looking out for its students by amending its financial aid system with a focus on need-based aid. He said the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship program gives "the most aid to the people who need it least," a common criticism of the lottery-funded program.

"If Florida continues in the current direction, it does so at its own peril. Because when the higher education system splinters to pieces, the future workforce and the economy will follow," Reed said. "And I know that this state – which is home to so many incredible resources and talented people – can and must do better."

[Last modified: Friday, November 11, 2011 9:59am]

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