Higher Education set for makeover under House bill

Feb 23, 2012

The House Higher Education Committee has released its plan to further revamp the state’s college and university system. Lynn Hatter reports the proposal would expand the power of the board that oversees the state’s 11 public universities—and make it harder for the colleges to establish bachelor’s degree programs.

Under the second of two higher education proposals by Republican Representative Bill Proctor, the Board of Governors would be able to weigh in on whether university presidents should be retained or let go. The move was championed by the Board’s chairman Dean Colson when he addressed members of the same committee only days ago.

 “We should not forget the authority of the Constitution was given to us and we should not hide behind what may have been a too broad delegation of powers to avoid the tough issues.”

That could put certain university presidents in the hot seat. The board would also be allowed to take  powers away from university boards of trustees. Proctor’s bill sets up several different measures for evaluating institutional performance based on retention and graduation rates, and post-graduation employment and salaries. Those metrics could also be used to determine a performance-based payment system. The proposal would also require greater collaboration between the state’s community and state colleges, universities and independent institutions and sets up an outline for further tweaks to how the state’s higher education systems are run. University of West Florida President Judy Bense endorsed the proposal.

“As one who struggles with a relatively unorganized higher ed system in the state, I think the consolidation aspect of bringing all the delivery system s together on the same page is important. And I also think metrics are important.”  

And so does State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan, who has been calling for greater coordination between the different delivery systems for years.

 “Focusing our academic programs, enhancing our outcome-based approach and making certain we look at the revenue necessary to create what I hope and believe what will become the best state university system in the United States and I am sure my colleagues in the Florida College system feel the same.” 

From the state and community college system’s perspective—that may be stretching it a bit.

We’ve carefully gone through the bill and we’ve raised several questions that we’re seeking some clarification on, and I want to point out that the questions we have are not why something is in the bill, but to make sure we understand your intent.”  

 Charles Dassance is with the Florida College System Council of Presidents.  Several of the “questions” he raises fall around language in the bill that would require independent need reviews and input from the universities and independent institutions in order to create bachelor degree programs. Allowing community and state colleges to operate those programs has been a point of dispute in the higher education system.

The group is looking closely at language that would require all public higher ed schools to create a common curriculum for certain undergraduate courses. The proposal also reduces the number of general ed courses required from 36, to 30. Florida Association of Community College head Michael Brawer says as the bill is currently written—that reduction could affect whether universities admit community college students.

“Certainly, anytime you start changing the content requirements of one part of the 2+2 agreement that could have some affect the other part of the 2+2 agreement.” 

The proposals are a reflection of comments made over the course of session-long talks between lawmakers, college and university presidents on ways to better run the state’s higher education system. Governor Rick Scott and Senate President Designate Don Gaetz have said they want more students in Science, Technology, Engineering and math programs, and House Speaker Dean Cannon has said he wants the state’s higher education institutions better align with one another. The Committee will take the bill up again on Monday.