The number of degrees produced by the state’s 12 public universities is slowing and the data is sending mixed signals about the state of the economy and higher education in Florida.
During the last economic recession, a large number of people turned to colleges and universities to get more training and change their job prospects. It served as a boost to the schools, and they were able to crank out more bachelor’s and advanced-level degree holders. Now the economy has gotten better, and the state is seeing a slowdown in production.
The state is about 6,000 bachelor’s degrees off its estimates for production in 2018. Board of Governors Chairman Mori Housseini says the drop could also be a result of the change of focus. More students are earning their degrees in six or less years, and going into the fields they studied.
“So what’s important here is, these students that are graduating on an annual basis, do they get a job? What’s the percentage of that graduation rate? And as you can see, the graduation rate is increasing.” He said.
But the slowdown in undergraduate degree production does worry University of Central Florida President John Hitt. He believes qualified students are being turned away from the state’s public universities because the schools can’t afford them due to a lack of state funding:
“We could hire more faculty members. We could hire more advisors," Hitt says. He believes more money could keep production high. "We could deal with some more students. We’re about out of space. We’ve been handling the growth through distance learning and its working pretty well, graduation rates are still going up…but--"it might not stay that way.
The drop off also correlates to the number of students who got their undergraduate degrees from public community and state colleges, where programs could cost half as much as they do at a university. Both systems also vie for state funding which is awarded based on enrollment. Yet when it comes to advanced-level programs, the reason for declines is not as clear. Programs like education, engineering and law are starting to slow down as well.
The state has pushed universities to raise graduation rates for undergrad programs. That means Master’s and Doctorate-level programs aren’t getting as much attention as they used to. But Board Member Ed Morton has his own theory about the slide—those advanced level degrees are becoming less important. He points to a report released a few years ago by the Florida Department of Education.
“It stated that 85 percent of the jobs to be created in the state of Florida in the next ten years wouldn’t require a traditional additional four-year degree. And that the engine that would drive employment would be certification and associate degree combined with certification—additional higher education, certainly—but it didn’t require a four-year degree.”
While degree production is slowing down, more people are completing their degrees. The state’s graduation rate has increased during the past few years. According to information presented to the Board of Governors, Florida ranks 38th in the nation for educational achievement of its population. It’s last in the top 10 biggest states for people who have higher education credentials. Many studies show the higher educational achievement a person has, the more money they make over time. And educational quality is important to businesses when choosing where to expand.