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Frank Brogan

Florida needs a plan to produce talent

Florida's future prosperity relies on the quality of its work force. To compete in the fast-changing knowledge economy, we need more well-educated citizens. We need more people with college degrees.

This year, almost 70,000 students graduated with degrees from the State University System. That's a huge injection of talent into the Florida economy. But 70,000 graduates are not enough to fuel the economic transformation our state needs. Florida needs to produce many more college graduates.

The State University System cannot do it alone. Our universities do not have the capacity. Two of our institutions, the University of Central Florida and the University of Florida, already have more than 50,000 students. Two others, Florida State University and the University of South Florida, are approaching the 50,000-student level. The State University System will continue to grow, but we must be realistic. As our campuses grow more crowded, one alternative is to establish new universities. But that would be a slow, costly endeavor.

Florida's economy can't wait that long. Generating the additional graduates our state requires now will take a coordinated effort of public universities, community colleges and private, independent institutions.

But where is the coordination? The State University System and its 11 institutions fall under the umbrella of the constitutionally created Board of Governors and the university boards of trustees. The community colleges — now known as the Florida College System, as they transform to four-year schools — are led by the State Board of Education, with boards of trustees at each campus. And the private universities and independent colleges, though they often work together on many issues, perform independently when it comes to decisions on degree production.

As it is, baccalaureate programs can pop up anywhere, at any time, with little or no dovetailing with the state's larger work force and educational needs. Many decisions are made based largely on local and regional perspectives. While this is an important part of the planning process, you cannot ignore the ripple effect on a statewide scale.

This is not a formula for success. It invites wasteful duplication of degree programs, and it lacks strategic guidance. Where should Florida invest in degree production, and what degrees should be offered? Those are the strategic questions we need to address. This coordinated, comprehensive strategic view is now lacking.

We need to bring together all of these sectors, as well as the business community and the state's political leadership, to make recommendations on wise use of scarce higher education dollars.

For now, the Board of Governors will advocate for an informal arrangement for planning for the future of higher education. But the State University System recognizes the value of strategic vision, and so I am prepared to propose a formal joint structure if needed.

Florida needs this coordinated focus on accountability, on degree production — what degrees should be offered, and where — and on aligning higher education's output of degrees with work force needs of our state, our nation and the world. What's more, our state must work toward a system of predictable funding — that is, how to move from today's crisis management to a more reliable multiyear budget for higher education.

I believe this coordinated approach will be the catalyst for creating a total vision of higher education in this state. This vision is needed, because Florida needs to invest in higher education if we are to compete in the fast-changing global economy. But we need to invest carefully, wisely, strategically.

We need to make Florida a talent-rich state. We need to create in Florida a new sector, a talent sector, built on a well-educated population. We need more citizens who have the skills, the ability, the know-how and the confidence to take new opportunities and turn them into new enterprises and new prosperity.

Florida is well equipped for this competition in innovation. We are not burdened with dying, Rust Belt technologies. We have in recent years established world-class centers in bioscience, in simulation technology, in alternative energy production and in aerospace, to name just a few. And we have an excellent State University System, a strong Florida College System and an impressive array of private institutions.

But there are no guarantees. We cannot take the future for granted.

The Board of Governors stands ready to work with all partners, both public and private, to create a unified vision for higher education — a vision based on meeting our state's strategic needs. Without it, Florida will be unable to boast a truly world-class education system and a knowledge-based economy, and will risk falling behind in the competition of the economy of the 21st century.

Frank Brogan is chancellor of the State University System of Florida.

Florida needs a plan to produce talent 11/10/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 6:14pm]
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