Lawmakers to lay foundation for higher ed reform in 2012

Jan 6, 2012


The 2012 legislative session kicks off Tuesday in Tallahassee and near the top of the to-do list is the beginning of a conversation on higher education reform. For months, Governor Rick Scott has talked about changing the way public universities are funded, and how faculty are paid and evaluated. Lynn Hatter reports while it may take years for the complete agenda to be fulfilled, the foundation will be laid this year.

The debate kicks off in the first week of session with committee appearances by State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan, and the university presidents. Higher Education Reform is expected to be a major topic of this session. But whether it will happen and what shape it will take is contested. State Senator Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat and minority whip, sits on the Senate’s Higher Education committee.

“I think one of the things that will come out of it is how important our higher education system is in Florida.” 

Governor Rick Scott has proposed a hefty higher education agenda. And some of the more controversial topics, like changing the tenure structure for professors, has many college and university officials on edge. State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan says tenure is a sensitive subject—like walking on a tight-rope.

 “The immediate reaction, whether people like to hear it or not, is that there are professors who won’t come to Florida’s university if they can’t bring their tenure with them, or work in a university where they can ultimately achieve tenure. Some of my friends may say, well, that’s too bad. Well, unfortunately, that’s going to have a negative impact on our students who want the best and brightest faculty members.”  

Governor Rick Scott says he wants the universities to show how well they do in graduating students with science and technology degrees—areas where the state and nation are seeing job growth.

 “I think people want to go to school to get an education to get a job. If they’re not getting degrees in areas where they can get jobs…then that’s each of our responsibility on how we spend our time. But on top of that, are we letting people know where the jobs are?”  

They also want the schools to justify how they spend money. Republican Senator Steve Oelrich, chairs the Higher Education Committee. He says the conversation will begin, but where it will go remains unclear.

“I think it probably will not happen this year, but it will certainly be on the table next year. Because, one of the things we’re going to have to do is some studies on this, really see the viability of this.”  

In addition to pushing more STEM degrees and tenure change, Governor Scott has also backed ideas like merit pay for professors. The proposals mirror those in Texas championed by Governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry.

The 2012 legislative session will be largely dominated by the once-a-decade drawing of new voting districts, and a debate over the expansion of gambling in the state. That leaves little time for major policy changes in other areas and it looks like a major higher education overhaul will wait until 2013. For WFSU-FM, I’m Lynn Hatter. For Florida Public Radio, I’m Lynn Hatter.