Make us your home page

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

Florida lawmakers wrestle with ways to fix STEM-degree shortage 01/31/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 10:50pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Last orca calf born in captivity at a SeaWorld park dies


    ORLANDO — The last killer whale born in captivity under SeaWorld's former orca-breeding program died Monday at the company's San Antonio, Texas, park, SeaWorld said.

    Thet orca Takara helps guide her newborn, Kyara, to the water's surface at SeaWorld San Antonio in San Antonio, Texas, in April. Kyara was the final killer whale born under SeaWorld's former orca-breeding program. The Orlando-based company says 3-month-old Kyara died Monday. [Chris Gotshall/SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment via AP]
  2. Miami woman, 74, admits to voter fraud. Does jail await, or will she go free?

    State Roundup

    MIAMI — An 74-year-old woman pleaded guilty Monday to filling out other people's mail-in ballots while working at Miami-Dade's elections department.

    Gladys Coego
  3. Bigger ships carry Georgia ports to record cargo volumes

    Economic Development

    SAVANNAH, Ga. — Bigger ships arriving through an expanded Panama Canal pushed cargo volumes at Georgia's seaports to record levels in fiscal 2017, the Georgia Ports Authority announced Monday.

    The Port of Savannah moved a record 3.85 million container units in fiscal 2017, the state said, benefiting from the larger ships that can now pass through an expanded Panama Canal.
  4. Dragon ride in Harry Potter section of Universal closing for new themed ride


    Universal Orlando announced Monday that it will close Dragon Challenge for a new "highly themed" Harry Potter ride to open in 2019 — sending wizard fans into a guessing game with hopes for a Floo Powder Network or the maze from the Triwizard Tournament.

    Universal Orlando announced Monday that it will close Dragon Challenge on Sept. 5 for a new "highly themed" Harry Potter ride to open in 2019. The ride, originally the Dueling Dragons roller coaster, was renamed and incorporated into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter when the hugely popular area opened in 2010.
  5. Would you let your company implant a chip in you?

    Working Life

    Would you ask an employee to get a chip implanted in her hand? Sounds invasive and intrusive. But come Aug. 1, one company in Wisconsin will be giving it a try.

    Three Square Market - a developer of software used in vending machines - is offering all of its employees the option to get a microchip implanted between the thumb and forefinger. [Photo from video]