Floridians question state education system

Floridians are concerned about the effectiveness and cost of Florida’s public education system, according to new data from the USF College of Arts and Sciences and Nielsen.

The quality of education in Florida, both in primary schools and in universities, was the focus of the latest 2014 Sunshine State Survey release Tuesday. 

Survey Director Susan MacManus said the lead question, generated by students in her Media and Politics class, is whether the Florida education system prepares students well for today’s global economy.

“Students are not going to be able to compete unless they’re skilled,” she said. “It’s the world we live in today.”

While 55 percent of those surveyed said the state’s educational system is moderately successful, only nine percent said Florida is very effective in preparing students for today’s complex international economy. 

“It’s not the kind of picture you really want,” MacManus said.

According the survey, the higher a person’s education or the closer a person lives to an urban area, the less likely they are to rate Florida students as globally competitive. 

“The very areas that have a concentration of immigrants and businesses engaged in international commerce are the ones saying we’re not very successful,” she said. 

Paul Dosal, the vice provost for student success at USF, said students concerned about a world economy should consider studying abroad to get an international perspective.

“If you can’t go overseas, you can study languages right here at home,” he said. “That’s one of the most important tools a student can acquire.”

Regarding the overall quality of Florida’s state colleges and universities, 71 percent of respondents rated it as good or excellent. People more likely to rate Florida universities as excellent were those fully employed, those with incomes of $75,000 and higher or those living in North Florida. 

When asked the most serious situation today’s college and university graduates face, 35 percent said a lack of well-paying jobs and 28 percent said debt.

Parents reported being more worried about the job prospects of their kids, while young adult minorities and the unemployed were more concerned with debt. 

Older respondents and the higher educated were also more likely to think students don’t graduate college with enough applicable skills.

“These are people in the workplace who are observing skills that are not in place by the time they are ready to hire or interview some of these college graduates,” MacManus said.

Dosal said he believes a bachelor’s degree still has value, both as an investment with monetary return and as a path to personal growth. 

“There’s been a lot of talk recently about the value of higher education, but I’ve seen nothing to deter me,” he said. “I think it’s still all worth the effort we put into it.”

When asked whether tuitions rates are too high, 57 percent of respondents said they believe it is. Though, compared to 23 percent from the 2012 Sunshine State Survey, 28 percent now see tuition costs as about right.

MacManus said the increased tolerance is due to lower tuition rates in recent years. 

“The change in tuition rates have hit home and people are starting to notice it,” she said. “If there’s people who noticed that, it’s definitely college students and their parents.”

On whether Bright Futures should be based on financial need or solely on achievement, responses were about evenly split. 

Women, African Americans, middle income homes and those with incomplete college degrees were more likely to say financial need should be considered along with academic achievement. Males, Hispanics, college graduates and the wealthy were more likely say the scholarship should only be based on achievement. 

Many of the survey questions also revolved around the quality of elementary and middle schools. Only 48 percent rated local public schools as good or excellent, compared to the 71 percent who positively rated higher education. 

Though the survey was also meant to benefit Florida’s educational and business leaders, MacManus said it should be a wakeup call for policy makers going into the November elections.

“These questions are very timely and reflect what is on the mind of Floridians,” she said. “People are increasingly identifying education as a major issue, if not the major issue facing the state of Florida.”