Renew focus on higher education
Published: Sunday, January 22, 2012
Updated: Sunday, January 22, 2012 14:01
With a $2 billion budget shortfall staring them down, Florida lawmakers are far from a position to give due attention to the problems with the state's higher education. Gov. Rick Scott and the Board of Governors, which oversees Florida's 11 universities, are facing tough criticism for colluding to raise tuition rates at state schools by 15 percent annually for a decade.
Still, some students are demanding their voice be heard on issues troubling their pursuit of higher education.
In fact, one might have called the outside of the Florida House of Representatives a replicate Zuccotti Park, with Occupy Florida protesters howling out: "We are the 99 percent" and "People over profits" while House Speaker Dean Cannon (R-Winter Park) was inside the chamber saying Florida's higher education is "racing toward mediocrity," according to the Miami Herald.
This was on Jan. 10, during the first day of the Legislature's annual session, where Cannon also blamed himself and other lawmakers for marring the state's higher education system by "parochially advancing the interests" of local schools, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
In addition to state lawmakers facing an occupation of angry protesters for putting personal interests in the way of fixing problems like those in higher education, members of the Board of Governors were also greeted by their fair share of protesters when they met Thursday, Jan. 19. Students picketed the entrance to the meeting shouting, "Students united will never be defeated," according to Central Florida's News 13.
College students are rightfully upset over their rather marginalized situation in dealing with issues such as tuition increases and cuts to the Bright Futures program, and it is good to see peaceful activism and assembly to draw attention to these plights.
The Board of Governors is under deserved scrutiny for gutting aid to students during an economic downturn. Groups like the Florida Alliance for Student Action are right for criticizing Scott's recent selections to the board. One is a leader in the health care industry; the other, a banking executive.
Private-sector leaders make up most of the board and thus exercise more power over university policy than students and faculty. The board currently includes only one student representative, who is elected by the Florida Student Association, a group of student body presidents. Some would like to see an amendment to the state constitution that would add more students to the board.
To make matters worse, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Shalimar) has introduced a bill that would replace the only elected student representative with a governor-appointed one.
How will Scott ever find the time or know-how to properly choose a representative for students? Clearly something needs to set Tallahassee straight when it comes to handling higher education.