Saturday, April 21, 2018
Business

Florida lawmakers wrestle with ways to fix STEM-degree shortage

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott and top lawmakers want universities to find ways to produce more science and technology graduates to fill higher-paying jobs.

But in every year but one for the past decade, public universities have increased the number of those highly sought graduates. In fact, the number of science and technology graduates — about 12,000 in 2010 — is up 48 percent since 2001.

They just might not be in the right fields, or growing fast enough. In a key area — computer technology — bachelor's degrees have tumbled in the past six years. And even with the overall increases, the share of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, grads remains just one-fifth of the total bachelor's degrees awarded.

"We're not doing as well as we could. We are doing a lot," said University of South Florida Provost Ralph Wilcox.

Proposals before the Legislature would attempt to change that, given projections by the state that 120,000 more jobs in STEM fields will be created by 2018.

Senate President-designate Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has authored a bill that shifts $15 million in current funding for universities to help pay for the schools with the five top technology programs. SB 1366 also allows universities to use a portion of tuition to give financial aid to students in those programs. It passed its first hearing by a 5-0 vote last week.

Gaetz said he focused on computer technology based on both industry interest and a decline in the number of graduates. After hovering around 1,200 graduates annually until 2004, state universities produced 700 degrees in 2010, a 40 percent drop. Economists project computer-related jobs will drive STEM demand during the next decade.

"It's been on a precipitous decline over the last 10 years in Florida. Every industry in Florida is interested in workers with IT skills," Gaetz said.

Educators at USF say the number of computer science students is rising already, a fact lost because graduation data lags behind realities in today's classrooms.

In 2006, 95 students entered the computer science program, said Rafael Perez, an associate dean and professor of computer science at USF. This year, 165 did.

Then there's a question of whether the state should even focus funding toward computer education.

Sen. Evelyn Lynn, who oversees a higher education spending committee, and House Education Chairman Bill Proctor said they lean toward engineers as the biggest long-term need.

At USF, Wilcox said demand for STEM degrees coincides with industry demands for critical thinking skills typically found in liberal arts.

"I can't find anyone who can tell me exactly what we need in STEM, and in what field," said Proctor, R-St. Augustine. "Now … I think it is fair to say that we probably have a shortage of engineers. Now, what type of engineers, I don't know yet."

USF senior Matthew Gil said he first pursued mechanical engineering, but it wasn't the right fit. He switched to mass communications and political science. "The focus on the STEM programs are good for the country," Gil said. "But, you know, you have people like me who tried going into the STEM field and it wasn't for us."

Ultimately, the answer at USF and elsewhere could rely on lawmakers' ability to adequately fund universities, where state support has fallen despite tuition hikes.

"Definitely, the increase in funding will help both our ability to enroll and serve more students," Perez said.

Times/Herald staff writer Brittany Alana Davis contributed to this report. David DeCamp can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Some people are paying for cuddles. And it’s not what you might think.

Some people are paying for cuddles. And it’s not what you might think.

When Samantha Hess’s marriage ended five years ago, she felt she was lacking a basic human need: Physical touch. As a woman in her late 20s living in Portland, Oregon, she found plenty of men interested in dating, but sexual contact was not what she ...
Published: 04/21/18
Judge: Foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa violated numerous rules of conduct

Judge: Foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa violated numerous rules of conduct

Tampa Bay foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa has violated numerous rules of professional conduct and caused two clients to nearly lose their homes because he failed to tell them about settlement offers from their banks. Those were among the prelim...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/21/18
Goodwill to open second store in greater Brandon

Goodwill to open second store in greater Brandon

Times staffThe greater Brandon area will celebrate the grand opening of its second Goodwill store beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday (April 28) at 1407 U.S. 301. The new store will add another 12,000 square feet to the complex, which includes a 200,000-...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/21/18
Regulators allow major solar company to lease home equipment

Regulators allow major solar company to lease home equipment

State regulators Friday determined that one of the country’s largest residential solar companies, San Francisco-based Sunrun, is allowed to lease solar energy equipment for homes in Florida. The decision, solar energy advocates say, could open the do...
Published: 04/20/18
Florida unemployment at 3.9 percent for sixth straight month

Florida unemployment at 3.9 percent for sixth straight month

For the sixth month running, Florida’s unemployment rate held at a nearly 11-year low of 3.9 percent in March as steady job gains continued. While many factors kept Florida’s economy chugging along, three industries stand out for leading year-over-ye...
Published: 04/20/18
Owners say new house is a disaster; developer accuses them of ‘online terrorism’

Owners say new house is a disaster; developer accuses them of ‘online terrorism’

ST. PETERSBURG --- Stretched across the front of Tim and Hyun Kims’ two-year-old house is a big banner with the name of a developer and the words: "I have to fix my new house."Some of what needs fixing is instantly apparent. The front steps are too ...
Published: 04/20/18
Florida hits a milestone: More than 100,000 people are registered to use medical marijuana here

Florida hits a milestone: More than 100,000 people are registered to use medical marijuana here

Florida has hit a milestone of sorts as it slowly moves toward wider availability of medical marijuana.The number of patients in the state who are registered to use the substance has surpassed 100,000 for the first time, according to Florida Departme...
Published: 04/20/18
Q&A: Walmart leader chats about Florida stores, and the chain’s latest retail strategy

Q&A: Walmart leader chats about Florida stores, and the chain’s latest retail strategy

The Tampa Bay Times recently sat down with Walmart director of corporate communications Phillip Keene to chat about the retail giant’s latest retail strategies and how the company is winning over customers in a competitive market.Already, two of the ...
Published: 04/20/18
SunTrust warns 1.5 million clients of potential data breach

SunTrust warns 1.5 million clients of potential data breach

Associated PressNEW YORK — SunTrust Banks Inc. says accounts for 1.5 million clients could be compromised following a potential data breach. The Atlanta bank says that it became aware of the potential theft by a former employee and that the investiga...
Published: 04/20/18
Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

The Tampa Bay area’s hotel occupancy rate rose to 87.5 percent in March, the highest level in three years. The rise was fueled by spring break vacationers as well as insurance adjusters and hurricane cleanup crews flooding the state to restore it aft...
Published: 04/20/18