Board of Governors vice chair at Tiger Bay listen05/20/08 Seán Kinane
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Since voters approved a constitutional amendment creating the body in 2002, the Board of Governors has directed Florida’s eleven public universities. Today at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in St. Petersburg, the vice chair of Florida’s Board of Governors, Sheila McDevitt discussed the ways that politics play a role in higher education.
Florida’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 Florida’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 year’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 Pruitt’s amendment passed it would have made Florida’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 Legislature’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 state’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 Florida’s higher education problems, McDevitt said. “We haven’t been funded for the last eight years. The university system hasn’t been funded [by the Legislature] and the tuition hasn’t risen.”