Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Education

New Florida higher ed task force to push baccalaureate degrees

A new task force has just been set up to study higher education in Florida.

No, not the Governor's Blue Ribbon Task Force on State Higher Education Reform.

Or the Board of Governors' Task Force on Facilities Funding

Or even a soon-to-be announced Online University Task Force.

This new group will study a statewide need for future baccalaureate degree attainment, Board of Governors Chair Dean Colson wrote in a letter to higher education leaders Wednesday. It will be responsible for reviewing the work of those other ongoing task forces before making final recommendations.

"With the emergence of other task forces, some may question whether we need another group studying higher education. I am of the opinion that now is the time to focus on the crucial issue of capacity," Colson wrote.

The board's recently released new strategic plan, taking the state university system through the year 2025, calls for an increase of 37,000 baccalaureate graduates per year during that time frame.

This task force's job will be to study the state's projected population growth and employers' needs for workers with advanced knowledge, to figure out whether the pipeline from K-12 education will produce a sufficient number of college-ready students to meet those goals, to determine whether the state universities or colleges have the capacity to serve them and whether there's a need for any additional universities or colleges.

The group is supposed to meet before the board's regular meeting in June, and its final recommendations should be submitted within a year, Colson said.

It comes at an interesting time, on the heels of a the task force set up by Gov. Rick Scott a couple of weeks ago with the charge to examine the university system and come up with ways to make it better.

It also comes as a 12th university is added without having studied the need for it.

Split off from the University of South Florida's branch campus in Lakeland, the new Florida Polytechnic University is supposed to serve students in science, technology, engineering and math fields. It was pushed by Sen. JD Alexander and okayed by Scott.

The Board of Governors talked about the idea at two meetings last year and signed off on the idea. The board, however, set up a number of benchmarks the new university would have had to meet before becoming independent. The bill signed by Scott creates the school right away.

The new task force, called the Board of Governors' Commission on Florida Higher Education Access and Degree Attainment, echoes some concerns raised in another somewhat controversial discussion in the higher education world — an evaluation in 2007 that suggested a "blueprint" for the future.

Widely called the "Pappas Report," named for the outside consultant hired to complete it (paid for with several then-Board of Governors members' own money), the conclusion was that the state needed to find new ways to offer more baccalaureate degrees. That included an expansion of the role of state colleges, and the idea to create a "tiered system" that ruffled feathers.

Creating new universities was deemed a last resort.

Kim Wilmath can be reached at [email protected] or 813-226-3337.

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