While the Strategic Planning Committee of the Florida Board of Governors was deciding which eight STEM majors should get the buy-one-get-one-free price break for upper division courses a few weeks ago, committee member Alan Levine argued that nursing should be on the list because the state has a severe nursing shortage. Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs Christy England explained that on the board’s “Programs of Strategic Emphasis” list, nursing was listed as a “Health” major instead of as a “STEM” major, and that the new law passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor required that the eight BOGO majors be listed as STEM majors. Levine was not happy.
But while the nursing shortage is one good reason for the Legislature to reconsider which majors can be selected for the BOGO list, there is another strong reason as well. The majors that the board selected are dominated by men, and relatively few women will be able to take advantage of the BOGO price break in the coming academic year. Of the 5,166 State University System students who graduated with bachelors’ degrees during the 2018-19 academic year in the eight majors that the Board of Governors selected for BOGO, only 20.5% were women (according to IPEDS).
Among the eight BOGO majors, the major with the largest percentage of women among 2018-19 bachelor’s degree graduates was mathematics at 34.5%. The BOGO major with the lowest percentage of women was computer engineering at 12.4%. The other BOGO majors (in ascending order) are electrical and electronics engineering at 14.1%, physics at 14.5%, computer and information sciences at 15.4%, information technology at 20.9%, civil engineering at 29.3% and management information systems at 29.8%.
This chart shows the numbers of 2018-19 men and women bachelor’s degree graduates in the BOGO majors.
In contrast, nursing is dominated by women. Of the 3,020 State University System students who earned bachelors’ degrees in nursing during the 2018-19 academic year, 84.0% were women.
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If the Legislature is interested in leveling the BOGO major playing field for men and women, the members might also consider majors in education. Of the 2,943 State University System students who earned bachelors’ degrees in education in 2018-19, 78.4% were women. There is certainly a shortage of K-12 teachers in Florida in almost every category, including elementary education. A BOGO deal for upper division courses might provide a significant incentive for students to explore teaching careers.
The problem for the universities with the BOGO majors is that the program amounts to an unfunded mandate. The Board of Governors staff projected that the eight BOGO majors will cost the universities $25 million this year. Expanding the BOGO program by adding nursing and education would significantly increase that cost.
But the Legislature could produce a BOGO program that is both equitable and sustainable by adding nursing and education to the program and then reimbursing the universities for the cost of the program. That is what the Legislature will do if it is serious about using the BOGO major scheme to incentivize students to consider the most economically valuable majors.
Paul Cottle, a physics professor at Florida State, was on the committee that wrote Florida’s K–12 science standards in 2007–2008 and was chair of the American Physical Society’s Committee on Education in 2013–2014.