Florida’s Board of Governors (BOG) may find its power severely limited if legislation to revamp the Board of Education passes the state House of Representatives. The bill was approved by the Senate with a 33-4-3 vote.
One of the major changes that would be implemented is the weakening of the BOG, which would leave the majority of vital decisions in the hands of elected officials.
The change would ultimately put the BOG’s power in the hands of the Legislature rather than the state constitution, compromising the autonomy – thus the willingness to act – of a body that in and of itself must advocate unpopular decisions.
This is a challenge to academic quality, as its likely necessary but ugly decisions (mainly tuition increases) will become even more suceptible to political whim.
The decision to support bureaucratic entities composed of appointed officials is typically unpopular, but the current state of Florida education may require such a group to make the tough choices facing the university system.
Though the budget cut to education is roughly one-third of the originally estimated $1.5 billion, it will have a dramatic effect on the funds appropriated to universities and may require even higher tuition increases to offset the losses.
According to a state comparison report on the BOG Web site, Florida’s tuition per full-time student is 46th in the nation. Florida also has the worst faculty-to-student ratio in the United States, with 31.1 students per faculty member.
Meanwhile, Florida has the fourth largest enrollment in public universities, behind California, Texas and New York. This means Florida should have one of the largest commitments to higher education in the nation, but with dwindling funds and rock-bottom tuition, the quality of education will not improve on its own.
There is a fine line between higher education being accessible and being worthwhile, and leaving decisions to politicians who may gain votes by blocking tuition increases could cause irreparable damage to public universities.
Someone will ultimately need to step up and take the less popular stance for the greater good of the Florida university system – and it won’t be politicians, who tend to make promises that don’t match financial realities.