Board of Governors vice chair at Tiger Bay listen05/20/08 SeÃ¡n Kinane
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Since voters approved a constitutional amendment creating the body in 2002, the Board of Governors has directed Floridaâ€™s eleven public universities. Today at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in St. Petersburg, the vice chair of Floridaâ€™s Board of Governors, Sheila McDevitt discussed the ways that politics play a role in higher education.
Floridaâ€™s state universities are loosing good professors and administrators and are poorly considered by the most respected publication in the field, the Chronicle of Higher Education, McDevitt said.
This session Floridaâ€™s Senate passed a proposed constitutional amendment that ultimately failed in the House. In 2002, Floridians approved an amendment mandating that the Commissioner of Education be appointed rather than elected. This yearâ€™s proposed amendment, sponsored by Senate President Ken Pruitt, would have reverted to an elected Commissioner of Education as well as disbanding and then reconstituting the Board of Governors, with few if any of its current powers.
McDevitt said that had Pruittâ€™s amendment passed it would have made Floridaâ€™s higher ed even worse.
She said funding for higher education has to be balanced between tuition, funds from the Legislature and contributions from private sources. Last summer, the Board of Governors joined a lawsuit challenging the state Legislatureâ€™s ability to raise tuition at state universities.
Florida ranks last among public university systems with a student to faculty ratio of 31-1, McDevitt said. The state needs 50,000 more students to earn baccalaureate degrees every year in order to fill the stateâ€™s workforce in the future, according to McDevitt.
Tuitions will go up 6 percent this year at state schools and McDevitt suggested that it should keep increasing at that rate or even at 8 percent per year until the tuition in Florida reaches the average of other states. McDevitt was asked how many students would be priced out of higher education when tuition is increased. But she said 30 percent of the increase in tuition would be funneled back into scholarships for poor and middle class students.
Finances are one root of Floridaâ€™s higher education problems, McDevitt said. â€œWe havenâ€™t been funded for the last eight years. The university system hasnâ€™t been funded [by the Legislature] and the tuition hasnâ€™t risen.â€