Florida Governor Considers Competition-Based Higher Ed Reforms

Published September 7, 2011

Texas higher education reforms introduced in 2008 by presidential candidate and Gov. Rick Perry (R) have headed to Florida under Gov. Rick Scott (R). Proponents of the reforms say they’ll improve the state’s university system through competition, with changes such as measuring professors’ teaching effectiveness, splitting teaching and research budgets, and in some cases replacing permanent tenure with multiyear contracts.

Perry’s reform efforts received public criticism from university leaders, accrediting institutions, and alumni after reports rating individual professors at Texas A&M University and the University of Texas system surfaced. The reports showed disparities in many cases between professors’ salaries and their contributions to the university as measured by teaching load or research grants. At Texas A&M, for example, 1,123 professors taught just 19 percent of all student hourss but accounted for 46 percent of the university’s faculty costs while bringing in no research funding.

“I believe students ought to be measuring the effectiveness of our professors because ultimately, it is the family’s money that is paying for this,” Scott said.

‘Seven Breakthrough Solutions’
In May 2008 the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) released a primer for higher education reform, “The Seven Breakthrough Solutions,” which Perry urged Texas university leaders to implement. Several did, partly. The document offers a roadmap to four goals: increase transparency, improve how institutions use resources, continue high-quality research while improving education quality, and reduce costs for taxpayers.

Scott said in August he has been passing around the report. He has also requested information from universities that use multiyear contracts for professors rather than lifetime tenure, and he asks people he’s interviewing for positions on college boards of trustees what they think about the ideas.

One of the most dramatic changes the report suggests is “student-centered funding.” This would grant a student a certain amount of state financial support to take to the university he or she chooses. State colleges and universities currently receive most subsidies directly through legislative appropriations, obscuring how much they spend per student and removing incentives for them to use money efficiently, said David Guenthner, TPPF’s senior communications director.

Merit Pay for Professors
The report also recommends evaluating professors using the number of students taught, their grade point average, and student reviews. The report suggests states preserve research budgets by funding research separately from teaching.

Of the seven “Solutions,” Guenthner notes, only two require action from legislators: student-centered funding and measuring educator effectiveness. Scott’s press office says no corresponding legislation has been introduced in the state yet. Earlier this year, the Florida legislature dropped a bill to ban tenure for state college professors. In May, Scott signed a law instituting merit pay for K-12 teachers.

“The Seven Breakthrough Solutions … were always intended to be conversation starters,” said Joshua Trevino, TPPF’s vice president of communications. “Just getting the higher education community to talk about the reforms necessary is a challenge in and of itself.”

Internet Info
“The Seven Breakthrough Solutions,” Texas Public Policy Foundation, 2008. http://texashighered.com/7-solutions