Policymakers | Costs

Report: Florida Universities Improve Grad Rates While Keeping Costs Down

NPR STATEIMPACT FLORIDA   |  June 6, 2013 by Gina Jordan

A new report finds Florida’s public university system is a good model in affordability for the rest of the country. 

Florida Rising: An Assessment of Public Universities in the Sunshine State analyzed cost, administrative and academic spending, curriculum, and graduation rates at Florida’s 11 universities.

(Florida Polytechnic University—the 12th in the system—doesn’t begin classes until August 2014.)

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) and The James Madison Institute are the groups behind the assessment.

“Overall, Florida public universities are on a prudent and successful course during these difficult economic times,” researchers wrote. “Significant challenges and difficult decisions over priorities remain. It is clear, however, that Florida has high potential to be a model for other states.”

While state funding for the system fell from $2.6 billion to $1.7 billion between 2007 and 2012, the report finds a six-year graduation rate of 66 percent—putting Florida in the top ten nationally.

“This report validates the Board of Governors’ priorities of improving student success, enhancing online learning, and balancing access, quality and affordability,” said State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan.

The findings bolster Gov. Rick Scott’s plea for universities to hold tuition steady without even a bump for inflation. Scott vetoed a 3 percent tuition hike approved by the Florida Legislature.

“The story of Florida’s public universities has particular importance for higher education in other states,” researchers said. “If successful, Florida’s proactive initiatives to maximize both access and academic quality will represent a key example for other states to follow and a new benchmark for cost-effectiveness in higher education.”

While Florida gets high marks for cost, transparency and accountability, researchers found room for improvement.

ACTA offers these recommendations for university governing boards:

  • Reward institutions that meet appropriate benchmarks for student learning gains
  • Require coursework in American history
  • Require students to learn basic economics and become proficient in a foreign language
  • Add accountability measures for tenured faculty
  • Eliminate codes that may violate free speech and expression on campus

“The System’s primary challenges include limiting unnecessary growth, maximizing use of existing resources, and learning how best to leverage emerging opportunities” such as online learning, said lead author Dr. Michael Poliakoff with ACTA.

“By addressing critical issues now, Floridians can ensure that their graduates are as prepared as possible to face life after graduation with as little debt—and as much skill and knowledge—as possible.”


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