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Politics

Senate Committee Cool to USF Breakup Proposal

September 20, 2011 - 6:00pm

Before Floridas university system considers adding a 12th institution, the chairwoman of the Senate Higher Ed Budget Committee wants the chancellor to justify breaking off a branch of the University of South Florida on its own.

Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Daytona Beach, advised Frank Brogan, chancellor of the State University System of Florida, that she wants more detail about the proposal beyond a simple desire to have another state university.

Im being very, very specific, Lynn said. I would like you to include in the recommendations a list of criteria that you will be using to establish a university, whether that happens this year or next year or sometime in the future. Its important, its imperative. Just the fact that you need more four-year degrees, to me, that doesnt make it. I could go privatize then."

Talk has already begun to sever the Polk County branch of USF, USF Polytechnic, into its own university within the state system, Brogan said.

His goal, as directed by the state board, is to have by November a business plan for the new campus that determines if it is ready economically and necessary to the state's education system. He added he hopes to have a recommendation on the proposal at that time.

Independence has its advantages, but so does being part of a larger organization, especially with a brand like the University of South Florida, Brogan said.We also have to look at issues of accreditation, issues of translations for students who are in the pipeline, who applied to the University of South Florida, who are now wondering, 'what will be my future if we go independent?'

The timeline would give legislators a chance to review any proposal before the 2012 regular session.

Its not just about a volume approach to more degree production, its about what kind of degrees we produce in the future, Brogan said.

Brogan said the state university system, which serves about 325,000 students, is undersubscribed in baccalaureate degree programs for a state the size of Florida. Meanwhile, some of Floridas universities, he said, are approaching capacity for the number of students they can handle.

The president has put out a marker that says, within the next 10 years the United States should be back in the top level of baccalaureate degree-producing nations. Weve dropped significantly down that list, Brogan said. We know that is not only a good idea politically; if we are going to create a knowledge-based economy in Florida, as we all want to, we have got to produce more baccalaureate degrees, more master's, more Ph.D.s.

Lynn said there are other ways to expand the baccalaureate degree program than opening a 12th state university.

Establishing another university seems counterproductive when we have all the state colleges out there that are increasingly adding four-year programs, she said.

The branch campus, in the backyard of Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, received $35 million in state funds this year and is being designed by internationally known architect Santiago Calatrava.

Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, compared the hiring of Calatrava to architect Frank Lloyd Wrights work on the Florida Southern College campus in Lakeland.

One thing were lacking is some incredible vision and design in the master planning, and that is probably more the fault of a state that is growing so rapidly and kind of having to retrofit the schools we have, Altman said. I just think that was an incredibly visionary statement. Its the type of thing we need to do in Florida: portray quality of design and innovation.

Contact Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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