January 17, 2008

Florida's Public Universities: "Worst in the Country" for Students and Declining

The nightmarish mess that Florida's educational system has become continues to spiral into an abyss. Clearly, any commitment to education is lacking in the state's government. Now comes word that plans are on the table for Florida's public university to begin laying off staff and faculty. Florida State University alone is preparing to eliminate 118 faculty and 100 staff positions, 40% of which have already been left vacant for some time now due to hiring freezes. I can think of one word that best describes this situation: pathetic. This comes at a time when enrollment has reached historic highs. Just as students need higher education as never before in order to compete in a global market, the state of Florida is absolutely failing to provide the necessary resources to make it feasible for them to do so.

This piece should be read in context with the next entry as well. There's a pattern of perpetuated ignorance that emerges here, extending from elementary school all the way through university, that leads me to think that Florida, perhaps willfully, is turning itself into an educational ghetto.

FSU considers faculty, staff cuts
Worst-case scenario involves elimination of 218 jobs

Florida State University administrators are planning a worst-case scenario of budget cuts to present to trustees Friday, and it involves the elimination of about 118 faculty and 100 staff jobs.

The cuts must be approved by the board of trustees before they become a reality. About 40 of the jobs are currently vacant, Provost Larry Abele said.

Abele said the FSU council of deans met and agreed to take larger departmental cuts in other areas to protect the loss of even more jobs.

However, he said, the financial cycle university administrators find themselves in continues to place state colleges and universities at the bottom of the nation's list in the amount of attention students receive.

"The state actually treats the universities reasonably well — not great, but reasonably well," Abele said.

But "reasonably well" doesn't boost a financially strapped university system, Abele said. State colleges rank at the bottom of the list in tuition and student-faculty ratios, he said.

"The state of Florida is the worst in the country and that's not fair to our students." Abele said about the student-faculty ratio. "Our students have to compete globally and yet we're not giving them an education in an environment that is competitive with those people around the world and in other states."

Plans have not been finalized as to how FSU will meet this second budget cut since October. But the steps administrators have taken are being copied by administrators at other state universities.

Teresa Hardee, chief financial officer of Florida A&M University, said about $4 million will have to be cut from the university's budget.

"Because it's such a deep cut it will have an impact on personnel — since 75 to 80 percent of our budget is represented by salary dollars," she said. "So, it's going to be devastating."

Hardee estimated between 20 to 50 employees will have to be laid off. Budget plans won't be final until trustees vote on the matter. Hardee said administrators are also considering canceling summer school or having larger classes.

The pending budget cuts coupled with low enrollment in the past few years presents a " double whammy" for FAMU, Hardee said.

"So we're losing quite a bit of money for an institution this size," she said.

Like FAMU, University of Florida administrators are thinking about eliminating summer school. UF's spokesman Steve Orlando said no decisions have been made but administrators believe they have to hack $20 million out of the university's budget...

University of Central Florida's Provost Terry Hickey said his team braced itself during the first wave of cuts. They kept millions in reserve. Now, they find that even that money is not enough of a cushion...
The moral of the story here is that Florida's public universities are becoming places to avoid if at all possible. Considering all this, they should be considered only as a last resort. A typical student getting ready to go to university would do better almost anywhere else when it comes to resources made available to students. Florida is simply not the place to be if one wants to receive a competitive education. As a graduate of Florida State who was fortunate enough to finish my education before the situation declined to the extent we now see, it pains me to say that... but what else can be said in light of a statement like, "The state of Florida is the worst in the country and that's not fair to our students."

This is particularly grim for students in the physical sciences. The course load necessary to attain a degree in those fields is heavier than most. I was a straight A student as an undergraduate, but the sheer number of credit hours needed to finish my degree necessitated my going to summer school throughout my education, even with a full course load every semester, and even doing that it took 4½ years for me to complete the requirements for my degree. If it weren't for summer classes, I would have needed 5½ or 6 years. Eliminating summer sessions would be a disaster for undergraduate students, stretching the duration of pursuit of an undergraduate degree to a ridiculous extreme. With the universities in such sorry shape, that degree won't even be competitive when it comes time to go into the job market or apply to graduate programs in other states — and perhaps not even in Florida itself.

As the education system decays, the decay will accelerate. Without a highly educated workforce, Florida will become less and less attractive to the top tier of businesses that provide the best-paid jobs. Fewer skilled workers will move to the state because of this. There will be less opportunity for university-private sector cooperation, resulting in further losses to the universities. Population growth is already slowing in the state. Since there is no income tax, property taxes are a major source of state revenues that go to fund education. The number of mortgage foreclosures in the state are already going through the roof. In St. Lucie county alone, for example, every month in 2007 saw more foreclosures than all of 2005. Without a commitment and a real plan from the state, from where is money for education going to come? Perhaps university professors can be enlisted to stand at street corners with rags and spray bottles to panhandle change from motorists in exchange for cleaning their windows. I dare say that anyone teaching at a public university in Florida who doesn't have tenure is already on the lookout for opportunities outside of the state.

It's a terrible mess that benefits no one but those committed to dumbing down America. I'll get to them in the next entry.

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