Study gives Florida higher education high marks
TALLAHASSEE — A business-backed national study gives Florida's public colleges and universities high marks for student access and success as well as efficiency. The report by the Institute for a Competitive Workforce, an arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, comes in the midst of Gov. Rick Scott's efforts to overhaul the state's higher education system and quash proposed tuition increases. Scott has appointed a task force to recommend proposals for making the colleges and universities more efficient, transparent and accountable while increasing the number of graduates with degrees demanded by employers such as math, science and engineering. The chamber report indicates Florida already is meeting some of Scott's goals but falling short in others, including transparency, accountability and meeting market demand."While this report shows the good work being done at the Florida College System, we look forward to using this data to make continued progress and additional improvements for our students and the state of Florida," State College System Chancellor Randy Hanna said in a statement Wednesday. Dean Colson, chairman of the board that oversees Florida's 12 state universities, said the report released Tuesday indicates the state's accountability framework is taking hold. The Board of Governors chairman noted Florida was the only state that received an A in student access and success for four- and two-year schools alike. Florida's universities also had the lowest cost per completion among the 50 states at $46,071 per student. Florida, though, received a B in efficiency and cost effectiveness while five states received an A although their costs were higher. Because of Florida's low tuition rates, though, the state's taxpayers contributed $41,647 toward the cost of completion, which is more than about half of the other states. Scott has been leading the charge against tuition increases being sought by the 11 universities although lawmakers cut $300 million from the State University System budget beginning July 1. The board is scheduled to vote on those requests Thursday. The University of Florida is seeking a 9 percent increase while the University of South Florida is asking for 11 percent. The other schools want 15 percent, which is the legal limit. "I hope that the state's investment in its four-year public institutions will return to a level one day so that we do not need to rely as significantly on student tuition," Colson said in a statement. Florida and Kentucky are the only states that received an A for two-year college efficiency and cost effectiveness. Florida ranked third in cost to completion at $38,146 per student. Florida has 28 state and community colleges that are primarily two-year schools although most now offer a limited number of four-year programs. The state's four- and two-year schools each received grades of C for transparency and accountability as well as meeting labor market demand. The report also gave Florida an A for online learning and a B for policy environment but a D for openness to private providers.