Task force may discuss university specialization

Though Gov. Rick Scotts higher education reform task force is still in its formative stages, task force members may discuss reducing duplicate university offerings and improving efficiency across the Florida university system.

The Florida Blue Ribbon Task Force for Higher Education Reform was created by Scott on May 4. Scott appointed Florida Chamber Foundation President Dale Brill to chair the task force, which Brill said would review previous reports, fundamentals and updates from the states 12 public universities, as part of an inventory process.

He said input will be sought from experts including the Florida Council of 100, a private, nonprofit,nonpartisan organization that gives a business perspective on key issues in Florida.

While the task force doesnt have the power to make any changes on its own, its purpose is to evaluate the state of the university system and create recommendations for the governor and the Board of Governors (BOG), about potential changes to enact.

Brill said the task force may consider recommendations such as incentives for the universities to focus on more narrow missions.

We have 12 universities and in some cases duplicate offerings across what other state systems limit to one or two institutions, said Brill. We may want to incentivize universities to focus on specific programs of excellence beyond their core curriculum.

Schools of medicine, law, and dentistry are examples of very expensive programs. The specialization of state universities was originally suggested by the BOG in a list of issues it compiled,independently. Brill saidspecialization falls under the larger question of what should universities offer, other than core classes?

It is way too early to tell what the task force may tackle, but we may want to clarify and strengthen the issue of specialization in case this controversy comes up again on a later date, he said.

While five members have already been chosen, Brill said the task force will not have its first official meeting until the sixth and seventh members have been appointed.

We will begin with anorganizational meeting to see if anyone has questions, check to see that everyone is on the same page, and then we will begin with the process of inventory, he said.

Kevin Burke, director ofcommunications for the Office of the Provost, said in an email to The Oracle that because Scotts intent is that the task force report its findings to the BOG ratherthan individual universities, the university would not comment further on the issue, to respect Scotts arrangement.

Brill said the task force will not focus on micromanagement aspects of universities, but will have a macro-level perspective,dealing with issues such as
preparing students for jobs.

He said that in April 2011, 33,000 STEM jobs were available in Florida, yet the workforce did not have the skills necessary toperform these jobs, so the task force will be analyzing how the universities prepare their students for the evolving economy.

When it comes to transparency regarding universities, said Brill, (We want to know) how they plan for the jobs of the 21st century, understand (their) perspectives, how the university system works, measure outcomes. There are job openings and students need to fill them.

Brill said the business-oriented reforms suggested by the task force will be made with the studentsin mind.

In the business world, thecustomer is sovereign, he said. In this case, the students are our focus. We are sensitive to how important students are and what they need.

John Delaney, president of the University of North Florida, was appointed as a member of the task force. He said Scott is really focused on efficiencies, and he thinks the task force will focus on potential changes that reduce cost.

There have been a series ofproposals (discussed) over the last 15 months about higher ed reforms, Delaney said. The Governor wants to pick the best of all of the plans and develop a reform agenda.

He said the formation of the task force is a positive step forward.

My dad used to tell me early in my career, if they are moving you around, they are thinking of you, Delaney said. I think it is likewise a good sign that the governor is thinking of the universities. This is all positive.

In a public statement, State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan said that the Board of Governors has already been set on the path toward accountability in state universities.

The future of public highereducation in Florida has been traveling toward a new frontier of accountability, and the Board of Governors already has produced a three-part framework that will create the most accountable public university system in America, he said.

In his own statement, BOG Chair Dean Colson said the three-part framework formed by the Board of Governors includes a new
2025 strategic plan, transformed metrics in the Annual Accountability Report, and a three-year work plan template that each university will present annually.