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Don’t Mess With Florida: Lawmakers Leery Of Texas-Like Assembly-Line Higher Ed

| September 22, 2011

university students as customers texas florida assembly line modern times

Modern times in Texas: turning university education into an assembly line.

Lawmakers in the Senate said Tuesday they are reluctant to fully embrace changes to higher education like those pushed in Texas and now being championed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Cross Creek, said he is “willing to consider and look at this Texas plan.” But he said he was “not completely sold on it because the university presidents don’t particularly like it.”

Oelrich, the chair of the Senate higher education committee, and whose district includes the area around the University of Florida in Gainesville, said he will meet with Scott on Wednesday and one item on the agenda is discussing the higher education reforms first pushed by Gov. Rick Perry in Texas.

The changes would promote tying state funding to the performance of universities, such as graduation rates, and include a type of merit pay for professors that would give students more power in determining professor bonus pay and tenure. The idea is that universities should function more like private businesses and be scrutinized in terms of how productive the faculty is and how efficiently the university operates.

Scott has made higher education changes a key priority, and has spent a significant amount of energy reaching out to university and college presidents and speaking to his appointments to college and university governing boards about the Texas plan.

At a Senate higher education committee meeting on Tuesday, the first since the legislative session ended in May, lawmakers began studying the issue by hearing an update on how the state university system compares to similar systems in other states. For instance, Florida has the fourth highest rate of graduation within six years, at 61.4 percent.

Graduation rates are seized on as a way of measuring the success of a university because it can represent how well a school efficiently educates students. The longer a student takes to graduate, the more expensive that student is.

But at least one lawmaker, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said the responsibility for graduating falls on the students.

“We should also focus on what is the student doing?” Negron said. “No one should take six years to graduate college, unless there is a financial or medical emergency.”

Oelrich said graduation rates need to be “tightened up.” Some universities have too few students graduate in six years he said. “It is not right and they are taking taxpayer dollars,” he said.

While more than 60 percent of Florida university students finish within 6 years on average, the lowest is Florida A&M, where fewer than half of students get their degree within that time frame.

Oelrich said the complex reforms contained in the Texas plan will take time to study.

“It will probably not happen this year, but certainly that would probably….be on the table for next year,” he said. “To have it come up here in a couple of months, literally, three months is pretty aggressive.”

Another lawmaker said the topic should be explored – albeit cautiously.

“I think it’s worth exploring,” said Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, and the chair of the Senate’s higher education budget committee, about professor merit pay. “Whether that is going to work or not, I’m not sure.”

Lynn said lawmakers have to tread carefully when it comes to tinkering with universities. “We attract some of the best and finest professors from all over the world,” Lynn said. “We don’t want to lose that edge.”

State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan said Tuesday after the meeting that some university presidents are open to discussing changes in how they are funded. “Once you get past the initial reaction, which is ‘Change is scary,’ …I really think there is a broad consensus that now is a good time to begin to have these conversations.”

Universities have long been funded based predominantly on enrollment. Larger universities get more money from the state than smaller universities. That tends to encourage universities to constantly try to get bigger.

“What we have now basically says ‘If you grow, we will give you more money,’ ” Brogan said.

He said now is a good time, because of a dramatic drop in funding from the state, to consider accountability-based funding. “We all agree the old funding model isn’t even being used right now,” he said.

The House’s education committee meets Wednesday. Its chair, Rep. Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine has said he has some reservations about the Texas plan, including how it calls students “customers.”

–Lilly Rockwell, News Service of Florida

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2 Responses for “Don’t Mess With Florida: Lawmakers Leery Of Texas-Like Assembly-Line Higher Ed”

  1. Jim Guines says:

    God, help us all, the law- makers are turning in the direction of helping our university system. I guess they figure that they have fixed K-12, now, they will fix the university system.

  2. Liana G says:

    The univesity system does need fixing. And k-12 will not be fixed until we have school choice. The extra 2 years that students need/take to graduate is no fault of the university, but the k-12 education system that is sending off students to college ill prepared and under educated. Those additional 2 years are spent on remedial courses that our k-12 education failed to teach.

    I was told that it cost a university more to recuit one student than it does to keep that student. So how does a university go about preventing high drop out rates and reducing expensive recruitment? Take a
    wild guess?

    Higher Ed today: The link has the full 8 page article

    …”Among 30 member nations of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States now ranks just seventh in the percentage of citizens who enter postsecondary education and then complete a bachelor degree or postgraduate program. Canada, Japan, Korea, Finland, Norway, and Sweden all have higher graduation rates than the United States.

    • While the percentage of students entering higher education has increased 20 percent in 20 years, the number graduating has only gone up three percent.

    • A significant portion of students are graduating without the skills we should expect from a college degree.
    • In the most recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) survey, less than one-third of college graduates could demonstrate an ability to read complex tests and make complicated inferences.
    • In the NAAL survey, 25 percent of college graduates scored high enough to be deemed “proficient” from a literacy standpoint.
    • And, most alarming given increased investment in higher education, these rates have actually declined over the past decade.
    • In the National Survey of America’s College Students (NSACS), the American Institutes for Research found this year that 20 percent of four-year degree holders and 30 percent of two-year degree holders have only basic quantitative literacy skills, like calculating the total on an office supply order.
    • In the NSACS, more than 75 percent of students at two-year colleges and more than 50 percent at four-year colleges did not score at the proficient level of literacy, meaning they lack basic skills like summarizing arguments in a newspaper editorial.
    • But, the literacy level was significantly higher for students who reported taking coursework that emphasized applying theories or concepts to practical problems.

    If we told parents that their children had only a fifty-fifty chance of earning their degree, how would they feel about their investment in college?

    • Today, just over half of entering students will complete a degree within six years.
    • The failure to complete college is a huge financial loss for the student and the larger community.
    • Too many institutions have just assumed that getting students in the door is the most important thing, not what happens once they are there. Retention is not a focus.
    • Many students are not prepared for college study and are already behind when they start: 40 percent of four-year college students and 63 percent of two-year students take at least one remedial course. Adequate preparation for college is essential and while it is the primary responsibility of the K-12 system, higher education bears responsibility also.

    College standards are becoming diluted and there is a fuzziness about what faculty teach and what is expected from students.

    • The rule of thumb is that students should spend about two hours of studying for each hour in class. But many students carrying a full course load report that they average only 13 hours of academic work outside the classroom and are still able to attain a B or better grade, which has become the new “average.”

    • At Harvard in 1950, for example, about 15 percent of students got a B+ or better: today the average is nearly 70 percent.
    • Although not universal, at some institutions and in some programs, grade inflation reflects a decline in course expectations for students. Students come to believe any work, not just high-quality work, is worthy of high grades.
    • Ironically, while American students trail their counterparts in other industrialized countries, they still feel good about their educational achievements. Easily earned grades reinforce a misperception among students about the difference between mediocre and genuinely outstanding accomplishments.
    • Thursday is becoming “the new Friday,” as students and faculty at many institutions arrange their schedules to avoid classes on Friday. At large public universities, classrooms sit empty on Fridays because as many as 50 percent fewer classes meet than on the busiest class days. Students may use their “free” Fridays to juggle jobs, internships, sports, and studying. But others use the time to recover from the Thursday night partying, which has become the norm on many campuses.”…

    More great reading –

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