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Polytechnic split currently poses problems

The idea to separate USF Polytechnic from the rest of the USF System began with a discussion of the move’s potential economic benefits. However, with support for the split coming primarily from Polk County community leaders, the advantages may prove to be only economic, leaving students and faculty to wonder about the quality of the school’s education.

According to the Lakeland Ledger, Florida Senate Budget Chairman J.D. Alexander, who also exercises power in funding Florida’s public universities, said he supported the split. His support does not come as a surprise, as Alexander allocated USF the $10 million it requested in 2010 to launch a pharmacy program on the condition that it be based at the Lakeland campus, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

Likewise, Gov. Rick Scott approved $35 million in funding in the 2011-12 state budget for new construction at USF Polytechnic, according to the campus’s website, providing USF Tampa with the bare minimum of what was requested.

Polk County businesses could benefit more from exclusive contracts with an independent Polytechnic than they can with the university under the USF umbrella. Yet, a major concern surrounding the split is whether Polytechnic would an accredited institution – a decision that would affect students in ways ranging from eligibility for federal financial aid to the quality of their final degree.

Without confirmed accreditation, the split would jeopardize the future of all the students who entered the university thinking they would graduate with a well-established USF diploma. Yet even if Polytechnic maintains its accreditation, ramifications of the split would be mixed.

Polytechnic’s core competencies – primarily technical and engineering related – should benefit from the division. The plan is consistent with new state goals to increase research in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, as the campus was created with that focus in mind.

However, this would place the burgeoning USF System at a serious disadvantage in the academic community. The Polytechnic campus has been viewed as a flagship for advancing STEM goals, which are considered when applying for accreditation under the Association of American Universities – afforded only to the leading research universities in North America and Canada, according to its website.

For USF to garner more prestige, a division would force the school to re-evaluate how it would keep pace with its competitors.

Students either taking classes at USF Polytechnic or taking classes concurrently at other campuses could also run into problems, as USF classes would no longer be available to them. Restricting students from classes and amenities, such as USF’s athletics department and student organizations, may compel them to leave both universities altogether if changes become unmanageable or credits untransferable.

Until the benefits of the deal are laid out for the public to scrutinize, the decision to remove Polytechnic from the USF campus system is fraught with problems.

Education in America is in a state of decay. With damaging policies like No Child Left Behind (NCLB), we continue to fall lower in the global rankings of math, science and reasoning. America continues to voice its concerns, and promises continue to be delivered. However, the budget for education continues to be cut.

Dropout and delinquency rates remain high, despite falling for decades, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. There is a plague of apathy infecting students on a national scale. The problem is the American education system.

The overregulated system the U.S. has in place teaches memorization instead of a more flexible curriculum that advocates problem-solving skills, promotes student life-goals and allows students to reach their own conclusions about the subject matter they are studying.

Current textbooks tend to give mediocre information due to trivialization, omission and the manipulation of facts.

Furthermore, our method of educating students is often flavored with a strong American exceptionalism. There is a general refusal to change and become more open-minded toward information and policies even though the times deem it necessary.

Who is to blame for the state of America’s education system? The truth is, there is enough blame to go around. Teacher labor unions are often criticized for opposing meaningful reforms that could increase competition and for protecting lousy teachers while failing to reward the good.

And, true parental involvement often ends at kindergarten when it should be present through the duration of a young person’s schooling. However, parents are not the only ones who share a part of the blame.

Sometimes individual students need to be held accountable for their poor performance. This attitude is only reinforced by the increasing amount of laws that lower standards and encourage a lack of student accountability and responsibility. School systems are subsequently deprived of the power and support to handle such problem students.

Universities are also not exempt from criticism. Every year, students hang their heads at the reality of textbook price gouging, rising tuition fees, decreases in financial aid and frequently cut academic programs due to a great lack of government funding to public universities. This leaves students distraught at the idea of stumbling headlong into a future of unimaginable debt – if it’s not too expensive for them to attend college altogether.

Even though the issue is starting to gain more attention from a majority of America, the sense of urgency required from lawmakers is nonexistent. Education should always be the top priority and investment of our country. The payoff has a direct impact on the crime rate, the economy and the overall stability and progress of our nation. No civilization was ever toppled because its citizens were too educated and its educational system too effective.

Part of our American ideology has always been America is best. But it is a depressing thought, indeed, if we are currently the best we can be.

Marcus Smith is a student at the University of Houston.