by Marshall Criser III
Florida universities are enormous drivers of economic growth, generating thousands of jobs and more patents than any other industry in the state. The potential for further impact is greater now than ever before with the leadership of Gov. Rick Scott and the introduction of performance funding by the Board of Governors, which oversees the State University System.
For years, the private sector has used economic incentives to drive behavior and reward success. This approach will propel similar advancements throughout the University System.
The Board’s cutting-edge performance funding model challenges universities to place more focus on individual student success and respond to the changing dynamics of Florida’s economy. It rewards universities based on 10 performance measurements, from average wages of recently graduated students to cost per undergraduate degree. Universities that fail to meet a minimum threshold of performance risk a portion of the existing budget, known as base funding.
Performance funding, planned for implementation later this year, ties annual funding to outcomes and incentivizes university leadership to invest resources in areas that have a direct impact on indicators of student success. One metric, which focuses on job placement, encourages universities to place a high priority on internships and professional mentoring, which prepare our students to connect their interests and skill sets with dynamic careers upon graduation.
The University of South Florida is an excellent example of what is possible if universities take deliberate steps to improve, raising its graduation rate by 15 percent in five years. To reach its goal, USF recruited students with higher grade point averages and SAT scores, required freshmen to live on campus for a year, and installed computer tracking systems to monitor student progress. The Board’s performance funding model rewards USF for its improvement, and other institutions are considering similar changes.
Our universities are among the best in the country. Combined, they add an annual $80 billion to Florida’s economy, generate 771,000 Florida-based jobs and make up 7 percent of the state’s GDP, according to the Board of Governors’ Economic Impact Study. Furthermore, our universities grow the state’s knowledge economy, attracting businesses, encouraging entrepreneurs and guaranteeing the state’s economic prosperity far into the future.
One of the model’s metrics encourages degree production in high-demand areas, including science, technology, engineering and math. By generating graduates in these key areas, Florida has moved to the forefront in recruiting companies who seek a more educated and skilled workforce.
Florida’s System is poised to grow even stronger. We are forging excellent relationships with business partners and elected leaders who are committed to job growth, and we are putting that synergy to work for our students. The governor and Legislature have challenged the System to raise the bar, to focus on the needs of Florida’s workforce and to make strategic investments that guarantee student success.
Our universities have demonstrated they are up to that challenge. The Board is proud to be a national leader in this effort, which I know will yield enormous results for Florida’s economy and its students.
Editor’s Note: Marshall Criser III is the chancellor of Florida’s State University System.