BOG postpones vote on testing

After the proposal attracted statewide scrutiny, Florida’s Board of Governors declined to vote Thursday on introducing a test for all graduates of the state’s 11 public universities.

While early speculation compared the proposed test to the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test used in public high schools, the man behind the proposal, Board member Steve Uhlfelder, maintains the test would not be “an all-encompassing standardized test,” but rather a yet-to-be-determined method of measuring student achievement as the state searches for a way to measure university accountability.

Uhlfelder said the Board would garner feedback from state education leaders before deciding if another accountability measure is necessary. He said that he does think another is needed, saying perhaps a contract between a university and individual students outlining what the students can expect in their education would be a good idea.

The Board adopted six accountability measures for the state universities Jan. 22, including minority student enrollment and the amount of money produced by faculty via research grants. USF faculty, administrative and student leaders protested the addition of a standardized test because, among other reasons, they felt the university has enough of its own accountability measures in place to ensure a quality education for its students. Uhlfelder conceded that USF has an impressive list of measures already in place, but added the state still needs a means to ensure its funds are appropriated properly.

Also at the meeting, the Florida Council of 100, a business group that has advised Florida governors for more than 40 years, advised the Board that Florida’s public universities should increase per-student funding and aid to low-income students by significantly raising tuition and making it tougher to receive state-funded scholarships.

The recommendations could free up $407 million by 2008-09 to reinvest in the higher education system, said Joe Heel, managing principal in Florida of the consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

“We are proposing a program that improves quality, accessibility and makes better use of funds,” Heel said during a presentation before the Board of Governors, which oversees policy for the state’s 11 public universities.

Members of the Board acknowledged that some of the recommendations were controversial and would be politically difficult to implement, especially placing limits on the Bright Futures scholarships. Thousands of parents and educators rallied in Tallahassee on Wednesday demanding that the Legislature protect the scholarships.

But some Board members, and leaders of the Council of 100, said the recommendations were a jumping point for considering a broader approach to improving higher education in Florida.

“This was not designed to be the answer,” said Board member Peter Rummel, chairman of the St. Joe Co., the state’s largest private landowner. “It was designed to show it’s an interlocking system.”

The Board took no action on the recommendations, which have been submitted to Gov. Jeb Bush and state lawmakers.

The recommendations, made to the Board in a report titled “We Must Do Better!”, would produce 4,600 more bachelor’s degrees by 2008-09, closing the gap between the number of jobs requiring the degrees and college graduates to fill them. It also would increase funding per student, Rummel said.

Florida’s universities receive less funding per student, $14,900, than the national average of $16,600, partially due to the lower average annual tuition of Florida’s universities, about $1,000 less than the national average. Florida also spends money giving Bright Futures scholarships to students with average SAT scores who are able to pay tuition, Heel said.

In addition, Florida graduates 25.1 students per $1 million invested in university funding, compared to the national average of 29.4 students, while paying a higher proportion of the cost of a college education, 86 percent, compared to a peer average of 73 percent.

“We manage to do less with more funding from the state,” Heel said.Several members of the Board appeared reluctant to back the recommendations.

“I think the people who are going to be paying for this are the people who make just enough that they don’t qualify for financial aid,” said Clayton Solomon, the student representative on the Board. “I think the students of Florida are getting a good education at a low price.”

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.