Trustees | Trusteeship

Criser: Florida deserves high marks for higher education

TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT   |  October 22, 2016 by Marshall Criser III

A recent column in the Tallahassee Democrat uses a poorly researched report by the LeRoy Collins Institute to make the case that Florida “gets an F for higher ed planning.”

Unfortunately, neither of the report’s authors bothered to reached out to the Board of Governors, which oversees the State University System, nor apparently, to learn about the State University System’s tremendous gains. Rather, the report relies on old data and appears to cherry pick information to reinforce a misguided thesis.

This report viewed in isolation does not recognize the effectiveness of the Higher Education Coordinating Council, which brings together every public and private education stakeholder, including employers. Additionally, using information from as far back as 2005 (for perspective, think two years before the invention of Twitter or the iPhone), the report criticizes the State University System’s current planning and accountability system, the same system recognized by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni in 2013 and 2015 for its bold leadership and effective governance.

The State University System’s 2025 Strategic Plan asserts the ambitious aspiration of being internationally recognized as a premier public university system, and sets specific goals that serve as the building blocks for that larger vision. Officially revisited every five years, the strategic plan is never far from the forefront, with university progress tracked each year.

Finally, while the report states – with no evidence – that performance funding distracts from the system’s long-term goals, the opposite is actually true. The Board’s performance funding model has contributed to our progress toward long-term goals and has stimulated remarkable achievement in the four years since it was implemented.

The following points are also worth noting:

• Florida’s approach to higher education coordination is increasingly comprehensive, with Board of Governors’ Chair Tom Kuntz making it a top priority to advance the state’s nationally renowned 2+2 system. Chair Kuntz’s work in this arena aligns with Gov. Rick Scott’s initiative to encourage a more efficient transition between the state college and university systems.

• Contrary to the report’s argument that the Higher Education Coordinating Council neglects long-term planning, the council annually updates a work plan to reflect Florida’s progress toward strategic goals and is also creating shared degree attainment goals.

• The report is ill-informed in its critique that Florida’s approach to enrollment growth is lacking. The State University System has maintained strategic growth while emphasizing a far more important aim – completion. In fact, the focus on completion through performance funding has resulted in a 6 percent increase in graduation rates, with Florida performing best of any of the 10 largest states.

• Further debunking the notion that Florida does not have a coordinated higher education approach, the State University System in 2015 published its Strategic Plan for Online Education, which puts into motion a system-wide road map for online education growth. Florida is likely the only state to have a collaborative, system-wide plan for the future of online education.

• The report criticizes the State University System for not implementing the strategies in a 2007 evaluation of Florida’s higher education system called the Pappas Report, neglecting to mention Florida’s success on several substantial recommendations with respect to retention, graduation and aligning degrees with the state workforce.

The State University System still has progress to make, and we welcome thoughtful critiques that are based on fact. But Florida is in an extraordinarily proactive posture when it comes to rigorous, collaborative long-term planning, and that’s an achievement we should celebrate.


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