TALLAHASSEE — Florida's 12th university became a reality earlier this year, and there is already discussion about whether the state needs a 13th.
House Speaker Will Weatherford challenged the board governing state universities to look into creating an online-only school in order to increase access to distance education. And Monday, the Board of Governors received the results of an independent study on the topic and discussed next steps.
Conducted by The Parthenon Group, the report outlines four options for Florida's universities and colleges, both public and private.
The first allows each school to continue operating its own distance education program, represented the status quo, and it got the least amount of support from the Board of Governors' Strategic Planning Committee.
The second and third options — systemwide collaboration or allowing one or more institutions to serve as the lead drivers of new programs — got a more positive response. The committee asked staff to research a hybrid of these two choices ahead of next month's full board meeting.
Board of Governors Chairman Dean Colson said he would like to have the state colleges and universities submit proposals to serve as lead institutions in order to create a sense of innovation and competition.
"We want to give them a prod," he said.
The board also decided to keep option four, a standalone online institution, on the table. But in a written response to the Parthenon report, state university provosts said they have "serious concerns" about creating a new university, such as the cost, competition with existing programs, establishing accreditation and creating another bureaucracy.
Forty percent of students attending a state university or state college took at least one online course during the 2010-2011 academic year. That is above the national average, 31 percent.
Members agreed that there needs to be more data on existing programs and their outcomes to determine which types of online-based courses create the most student success and which programs are most efficient.
And they agree that more should be done to market the distance education already taking place in Florida, especially because out-of-state schools are recruiting students for online programs.
"I believe if we market together and develop the right marketing plan, it will far surpass any individual institution's marketing plan," said Randy Hanna, chancellor of the Florida College System.
Board members made it clear that they want to control their own destiny when it comes to whether the state needs another state university.
State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan said the board should take its time. But board member Manoj Chopra, a faculty representative, said lawmakers could step in and force their hand.
"I'm a little worried if the choice will be made for us by then," Chopra said, possibly referring to how Florida Polytechnic, the state's 12th university, was fast-tracked into existence this year by the Legislature.
Tia Mitchell can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263.