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Gov. Rick Scott wants to know how much Florida university graduates earn

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott wants to know where college graduates in Florida are finding jobs, how much they're earning and what university officials are being paid.

Scott's questions follow what he says are doubts from employers that Florida is producing the type of workers the state needs. The inquiries also highlight his own goal of producing more science- and math-related graduates.

"I'd like to understand why our universities cost what they cost," Scott said Wednesday during an interview on WSKY-FM 97.3 in Gainesville.

Scott used the interview, broadcast in the hometown of Florida's top-ranked public university, to talk publicly for the first time about his questions for the university system.

"The growing jobs in our state over the next 10 years are going to be science, technology, engineering and math degree jobs," Scott said.

"So what are we doing?" Scott asked. "What percentage of our graduates are in those areas? How are we promoting that? What's our success? Is it going up? Is it going down? That's the type of things I'm asking for."

Scott, who implemented a fee schedule for public record requests to his own office, sent a letter Oct. 13 to Florida's 11 state university presidents with 17 requests for data, surveys and other information.

Scott asked for the following, among other things:

• Job descriptions, total wages, number of courses instructed and "measurable goals" for the 50 highest-paid employees at each university for each of the past three years.

• Costs and revenues per program from the past decade.

• A list of the required classes for undergraduates.

"Many university graduates are unable to find jobs in their field of study, and many employers are concerned that university graduates are not equipped with the appropriate writing skills, critical thinking skills and technical expertise needed to succeed," Scott wrote in his letter.

Frank Brogan, chancellor of the State University System, cautioned a House budget committee Wednesday that the debate could harm the state's university system.

Calling higher education "arguably one of the most competitive industries known to man," Brogan said the marketing of Florida's universities is critical.

"We all recognize change needs to be made," he said. "But how that change translates to what the rest of the world hears can be difficult if you're not careful."

Scott has not yet released the specifics of his higher education plan, but it's likely that any significant change would cost money. That's a problem for a state that has cut total spending by 6 percent in five years, including 27 percent from the university system's base budget.

Lawmakers, who already are approving bills in preparation for the legislative session that starts in January, have raised questions about Scott's approach.

Rep. Marlene O'Toole, chairwoman of the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, said budget issues will make it difficult to approve major changes.

"The governor says a lot of things, and that doesn't mean it happens," said O'Toole, a Republican from Lady Lake.

So far, Scott has attempted to find money within the university system, suggesting bigger subsidies for science and math classes and less for liberal arts programs.

While looking to cut costs at universities, Scott also indicated that he'd be opposed to a tuition increase.

"If you take most companies in the private sector, they're not able to raise prices 8 percent, 3 percent, 15 percent a year. They can't," Scott said. "So I don't understand why education has to continue to cost more money every year."

But O'Toole said parents should plan on another tuition increase.

"They see everything else going up — why would education be any less?" she asked.

While lawmakers await Scott's proposal, he has already rankled some professors.

Attempting to raise the profile of STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — programs, Scott belittled anthropology majors earlier this month, saying, "We don't need them here."

The comment brought a rebuke from the American Anthropological Association and a correction from Brogan, who told lawmakers that anthropology is a STEM-related degree.

Posting a list of salaries for more than 50,000 university employees online has also irritated university officials. Scott's media team has said the information was released recently in the name of transparency.

Other data on Scott's public records website — floridahasarighttoknow.com — are related to Scott's political targets.

Last year, while Scott was pushing to cut state worker benefits and reform state pensions, his office posted a database of state worker salaries and a list of the top annual payments from the pension fund.

"What I'm trying to do" Scott said on the radio, "is get information out to people so they can make sure that they're happy with the decisions that are being made."

Michael C. Bender can be reached at mbender@sptimes.com.

Gov. Rick Scott wants to know how much Florida university graduates earn 10/19/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 10:23pm]
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