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Monday, November 21, 2011

Rick Scott's plan to go cheap on college is no bargain for Florida

From the Palm Beach Post's editorial board

Gov. Scott is taking Florida Higher Ed 101, amassing information on the state university system as part of his push for an overhaul during the 2012 legislative session.

Unfortunately, the governor is following the wrong syllabus. Though he is right to focus on steering more students into science, technology, engineering and math fields - an effort that began before he took office - his focus on professor salaries and tuition won't help make Florida become the jobs engine the governor envisions.

The governor has requested from the universities job descriptions, wages, number of courses instructed and "measurable goals" for the 50 highest-paid employees at each university for each of the past three years. He's also asked for costs and revenues per program from the past decade, and has said he opposes further tuition increases.

As outlined in a Post story last Sunday, Gov. Scott posted salaries of the 52,000 employees at Florida's 11 public universities on the website A spokesman said the posting was the governor's effort to be transparent. The high salaries of several administrators - many of whom also lobby on behalf of their universities along with doing their full time jobs - has gotten lots of attention. That was the intent: to make the universities appear bloated. That would make them an easier target for budget cuts when the Legislature meets next year and has to close a nearly $2 billion budget gap.

Anecdotally, there may be some examples of excessively high pay. Institutionally, however, the state university system is anything but bloated. The Legislature, regardless of which party has been in control, never has adequately financed the university system. It has lost 27 percent of its base budget over the past five years. Florida consistently has ranked near the bottom in state support for higher education.

For many years, Florida also had one of the lowest in-state tuition rates. So the Legislature allowed universities to raise tuition by up to 15 percent each year until Florida reaches the national average. Having once ranked 50th, the state has moved all the way to 48th. On Thursday, however, Gov. Scott said at a meeting with The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board that "the first thing we ought to be doing is saying is there a way to provide the education we want to provide to these students at a lower price."

Florida public higher education already is a bargain. Also, what you won't read on is that professor salaries here are below the national average. A study by the American Association of University Professors found the nationwide average for a public university professor at institutions that offer doctoral degrees is $86,653. Florida universities average nearly $6,000 less.

Any overhaul of higher education should be designed to attract the best faculty and administrators. Asking the system to once again to do more with less will drive them away.

- Rhonda Swan,

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