The Board overseeing Florida’s public universities says the state has lots to be proud of when it comes to higher education. Over the past year the board has worked to increase its authority over local university boards. During Thursday's "State of the System" address, the board’s chairman said that role isn’t going to diminish anytime soon.
When the Board of Governors was created several years ago, it gave most of its power to local university boards. But over the past year, with several crises popping up at the different universities, Board of Governors Chairman Dean Colson says his group has found itself playing a larger role in school affairs:
“During my state of the system address last year, I talked about the board using its Bully Pulpit when things go bad. Several times over the past year this board has had to do exactly that, and I suspect that we will continue to do so in the near future," he said.
Those issues include things like the Florida A&M University hazing scandal, the creation of a 12th public university--Florida Polytechnic--and persisting questions over the fate of Florida State University’s digital production program in West Palm Beach. Board members also served on presidential search committees at the University of Florida and FAMU.
Meanwhile, the Board of Governors will continue its push for more state funding. Colson said while the system as a whole is doing well, there are several areas where the universities can improve.
"Half of our institutions have six year graduation rates below 50-percent. Our system continues to lag behind on national academy members. As a state we rank 17th. If you want the system to continue to serve as an economic engine for the state, we must have the resources to recruit the best and brightest. Simply being good isn’t good enough.”
The Board is asking the state for an additional $118 million. It’s also trying to get greater flexibility to decide how to spend the money it gets for building and maintenance projects. University of West Florida President Judy Bense told he House Appropriations Committee Thursday that a little trust can go a long way.
“What were really recommending to you, from the Board of Governors Task force, is to trust us a little more... to have more authority, to make decisions about the facilities on their campus," Bense said.
The House Appropriations Committee heard a report from legislative analysts that says the primary source for school construction projects, called PECO is running dry. That fund is supported through a tax on land lines and electricity. But better technology has made things more energy efficient and many people have moved to cell phones—causing a sharp decline in dollars available for public education capital projects.