Higher Education Task Force Shouldn't Focus Only on Money
Around the State
Gov. Rick Scott’s creation of a task force on higher education is timely, and could be beneficial if it doesn’t get sidetracked into focusing solely on funding.
Despite what some claim, there is a lot more to education than money.
Liberals measure progress by how much money is spent. That's like saying the auto that burns the most gasoline is the best bargain.
Another diversion would be to buy into the idea that education must be separated from politics.
Can’t be done. Shouldn’t be done, despite the fact that politicians sometimes are part of the problem.
One thing that affects higher education dramatically is the raw product – graduates of the K-12 system.
Reforms since 1998 have been producing results, but there are still far too many students not ready for college.
One reason is that, for decades, politicians periodically have seized on the latest education fad, given it a catchy acronym and imposed it on the system. The Blob pretends to embrace each one, after having opposed it unsuccessfully, then – after the legislator is out of office – forgets it. That's wheel-spinning. However, allowing The Blob to govern itself would be even worse than having politicians in charge.
Tuition is a thorny issue. This year the Legislature voted to allow universities to raise tuition. Scott vetoed the measure, saying he didn’t want students going deeper in debt.
Students are not paying the cost of their education, although it is an investment in their future.
On the other hand, increasing tuition is like increasing taxes, which merely produces increased spending.
All universities want to offer everything and become major research centers where teachers don't teach; they do research. When a chancellor once suggested a tiered system with more specialization, he was roundly castigated.
But the tuition increase might have allowed a second state university to attain research institution status from the American Association of Universities, which would have been a plus.
That leaves the issue of the new university just added to the system. Who knows whether it was needed or it was just a legislator’s pet project? It should have been left for the task force to address.
To hear the media tell it, the system is on the verge of collapse.
But John Delaney, University of North Florida president and a former interim chancellor and member of the task force, says that the United States has the best universities in the world, and he thinks Florida is among the best in the nation, despite cutbacks and being well below the average in spending per student.
He says students once paid only 20 percent of the cost of their schooling and that the current 50 percent share probably is fair.
He thinks it would be helpful to devise good benchmarks to measure the system's performance, and based on his own research, he believes the state could double its current spending and recover most of the cost from new revenues it would generate -- certainly a claim worth investigating.
Lloyd Brown was in the newspaper business nearly 50 years, beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. After retirement he served as speech writer for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.