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Nancy Smith

You Were Right, Rick Scott: Florida Can't Hide from Abysmal STEM Rankings

January 13, 2013 - 6:00pm

Sorry, anthropology defenders, but Gov. Rick Scott was right 15 months ago about the college degrees needed in the 21st century marketplace. And he's so right today.

It's official: Florida's STEM credentials really are in the toilet.

Key into the just-released2012 U.S. News and World Report's rankings of the nation's best engineering schools.

Of the four most populous states in the nation -- California, Texas, New York and Florida -- Florida is the only one without a single engineering school in the Top 10, Top 20 or Top 30.

In fact, the state's best, the University of Florida, comes in at No. 35. The other three states have at least one school in the Top 10 and at least two in the Top 20.

If you think Florida employers haven't noticed the crushing ineptitude of the state's workforce, listen to Paul Woods, co-founder of Bonita Springs-based international biofuels company Algenol.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Woods as saying that Florida students don't compare even remotely with the employees he hires from around the world. "I can tell you, the state of Florida is not even close to mediocre," he said.

Ben Cameron, a California stock-car parts manufacturer who briefly looked to bring his company to Daytona Beach two years ago, told Sunshine State News he was "unimpressed" by the number of engineers in the job market here. "I know we've got the Silicon Valley, but Florida has NASA. You would think NASA's presence would give universities an incentive to roll out exciting degree programs."

In April 2011, the Florida Center for Research in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, created four years earlier by the Florida Legislature, came out with a scathing report that first spoke about the woeful performance of high school students.

"Currently," the report stated, "students in Florida perform below students in many other states and nations on science and mathematics assessments. ... As students in Florida progress through our public schools from elementary to high school, their performance declines relative to that of their peers in other states and nations."

Here's what else it says:

* Nearly half of the high school graduates entering Florida's community colleges require remediation in mathematics.

* Less than 25 percent of bachelor's degrees awarded through Florida's state university system in 2010 were in STEM fields. Yet the 10 highest-paying careers in Florida are in STEM fields.

* Industry leaders consistently report a shortage of qualified professionals to fill STEM positions.

Fortunately, none of this escaped the attention of Gov. Scott, whose lofty goals for jobs and economic growth in Florida depend on competitive, STEM-focused state college and university systems.

He should get more credit for declaring a state of disconnect between higher education and the workplace -- widely ridiculed by the mainstream media at the time -- and for the work he's done to restore leadership, energy and the will to make Florida act more like the vibrant state it has become, fourth largest in the nation.


Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or (850) 727-0859.

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