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  1. Education

Governor's higher education panel discusses reforms

Published Jul. 27, 2012

CLEARWATER — Florida's higher education system should be the best value in the nation, contribute to the state's economic success and be governed with a spirit of collaboration between its leaders.

At least, that's the idea.

That somewhat nebulous vision emerged Thursday in a daylong series of workshops put on by the Florida Blue Ribbon Task Force, the panel created by Gov. Rick Scott this year with the charge of reforming the state's colleges and universities.

It marked a critical point for the seven-member panel, which now has to boil down the many thoughts offered by dozens of higher education leaders and deliver a list of recommendations to Scott by October.

It won't be an easy task, given all the different constituencies: students, parents, taxpayers, lawmakers, colleges, universities and the boards that govern them.

"It's like walking into a room full of hornets nests," Dale Brill, president of the Florida Chamber Foundation and the panel's chairman, said between workshops, which took place at St. Petersburg College's Collaborative Labs. "One nest breaks, and you back into a wall and break another one."

Still, Brill is confident the panel will be able to meet its deadline. The hope is to offer Scott at least three succinct goals, with an extensive business-focused case to back them up.

Scott, after all, is a business-minded man. He created the panel to identify ways to make the state's higher education systems more efficient even as he vetoed a bill that would have allowed certain top universities to raise tuition.

If universities want to charge more, they're going to have to show that the extra money would provide students with an extra return on investment, Scott said at the time. That notion was alive Thursday, with discussions about changes to tuition policy focused on tying tuition to outcomes at the state's dozen public universities. One clear opinion: not every university necessarily has to charge the same amount.

Other ideas included allowing the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the university system, to receive a lump sum from the Legislature and decide how to split it among the universities, rather than the schools getting the money directly from the state budget.

There was a lot of pondering about how much Florida's higher education is worth. How much money should be invested in it? How much of a share should students pay? How much should the state pay?

An answer never came.

Kim Wilmath can be reached at kwilmath@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3337.

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