Gov. Scott huddles with university trustees on improvements

Century Tower at the University of Florida campus in Gainesville, Florida. [Photo courtesy: UF]

Looking to improve the quality of Florida's universities while keeping costs low, Gov. Rick Scott held a three-hour meeting and luncheon Monday with chairmen of the boards of trustees from each of Florida's 12 universities.

While pointing out increases in state funding over the past half-dozen years, Scott called on the trustees to improve performance on issues like graduation rates and job placement, while emphasizing universities can do a better job of controlling costs.

"Here's my attitude, I don't understand why we're not No. 1," Scott told the trustees during the meeting at the governor's mansion. "I was never in a business where I said I'm fine with being No. 10, No. 15. Why wouldn't we be No 1?"

Echoing comments he made to university trustees at a Florida Board of Governors' meeting in Boca Raton this month, Scott said he will evaluate how the schools meet some of the initiatives he has outlined, including graduating more students in four years, placing students in higher-paying jobs and keeping tuition low.

Scott, a former health-care company executive, also reemphasized the need to reduce costs at the 12 universities.

"I really believe the cost is ridiculous," Scott said. "The money these schools have been getting is skyrocketing. It's not a little bit. It's a lot of money."

Among other issues, Scott said he will scrutinize how Florida State University and the University of Florida, which received $25 million each in "pre-eminence" money in the new academic year, are using that funding to rise in the ranking of national public universities.

All of the universities have a large portion of their new funding tied to a performance-measurement system, which ranks the schools on metrics like job placement, wages of graduates, retention rates and whether students are taking "excess" classes.

In the current academic year, the state distributed $500 million in performance funding to the 12 schools, with three schools, the University of North Florida, the University of West Florida and New College of Florida missing out on some of the funding because they finished at the bottom of the rankings.

During Monday's meeting, the chairs of each school's board of trustees outlined areas where the universities were excelling but also highlighted areas where improvements could be made.

Tom Kuntz, chairman of the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the entire system, said the meeting was a unique opportunity for the trustees to "sit down and do some work" with the governor on the higher education improvements.

Many of the chairs said they are using and incorporating the performance standards in various areas of their schools, including evaluations of the university presidents.

Ed Burr, chairman of Florida State University's board, said over time the performance standards have "created a culture" at the schools based on metrics and other performance standards.

"That is becoming pervasive throughout our schools," Burr said, saying it has been embraced by administrators and "more slowly by faculty."

Kuntz said he expects the metrics to constantly evolve, noting the Board of Governors has just revised a metric designed to evaluate the "cost" of obtaining a degree at each school. He said some schools like the revision and others have concerns.

"If these (measurements) ever just stop and never change, I think we will have a failed system," Kuntz said.

Kuntz said the measurements should not be changed radically on a year-to-year basis but that ongoing revisions are expected.

"What should we change? What's a better way to do it? And then adopt those over time," he said. "Twenty years from now I would suggest it will look nothing like it does today."

But Kuntz also said there is still some resistance among the universities to using the measurement system to punish schools based on their performances.

"I would say at this point one of the biggest obstacles to overcome still is I hear a lot of conversation of, 'Yeah, but why is there going to be somebody at the bottom who gets less than somebody else?' " Kuntz said.

Kuntz said some critics argue the schools should be measured against the performance standards but not be financially penalized.

But Kuntz, a former banking executive, said "that's just the way the world works."

"Somebody who has performed the best should get more, whether you are measuring against each other or measuring against a different group," Kuntz said.

Burr said the universities are adjusting to the system.

"Hold us accountable and reward us if we do well," he said.


Information provided by The News Service of Florida.