Bright Futures needs to be phased out, legislator tells UF trustees
Published: Friday, September 9, 2011 at 3:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 9, 2011 at 3:02 p.m.
ST. AUGUSTINE — The chairman of the Florida House education committee told University of Florida trustees Friday that phasing out the Bright Futures scholarship program would free up money needed for state colleges and universities.
"It's the only pot of money that's sitting out there, so I think we would be much more honest if we simply said up front, we're going to phase this program out," said Rep. Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine. "It was nice when we could afford it, but we can't afford it."
Proctor made the comments in a wide-ranging discussion of higher education during a UF trustees retreat at Flagler College, where he serves as chancellor and was the former president. He delivered a blunt assessment of the Texas-style higher education reforms being considered by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, including the use of student evaluations to measure and reward faculty.
Proctor said it was "pure foolishness" to use student evaluations as the singular way to measure faculty.
"I don't know who wrote that plan, but if they would put an idea like that in it, it tells me that they don't have a lot of experience in student evaluations," he said.
The retreat came as the board of trustees' membership has undergone major changes this year, including three new members appointed by Scott. One of those trustees, health care executive Alan Levine, said he was asked to read the Texas plan before interviewing with Scott. He said the governor gave the impression he didn't want to copy the plan.
"What I got from the governor was, how can we move toward a more efficient and accountable model?" he said.
The reforms, championed by GOP presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, are based on "Seven Breakthrough Solutions" developed by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. The proposals include using student evaluations to award cash bonuses to professors and using evaluations and class loads to determine tenure.
Proctor said he was troubled by the notion that students should be treated as customers. Students have their educations subsidized, he said, so treating them as a customer fails to recognize their obligation to the state and distorts their relationship with universities.
"The customer's always right," he said. "Students are not always right."
Preceding his statement that Bright Futures was a "bad program" because it helped suppress tuition levels, Proctor said he's not running for re-election. He said Bright Futures, which is funded by Florida Lottery dollars and awards scholarships based on high school grades and standardized test scores, could remain in part as a need-based program if it was phased out.
UF Student Government President Ben Meyers expressed concern about the idea following the presentation. Meyers said reforms to Bright Futures are needed but that the scholarships should remain based on merit as a way to keep the brightest students in the state.
"I think the commitment has to be to how to save it," he said.
Proctor also questioned the state law that allows community colleges to grant four-year degrees and be known as state colleges. He suggested that any state college granting 10 to 15 percent of its degrees at the bachelor's level should be put under the state Board of Governors, the governing body of the state university system.
"That would dampen the enthusiasm in a hurry," he said.
Proctor's comments followed UF President Bernie Machen's presentation to trustees of his plan on doctoral education. Machen last year created a committee that evaluated UF doctoral programs using a national study and university measures such as percentage admitted and time to degree, finding many of them lag behind comparable programs at peer institutions.
Trustee Michael Heekin, another Scott appointee and health care executive, asked why there were no measures of what graduate students have learned.
Machen said the most rigorous examination of students happens at the graduate level and that at some point it has to be assumed that faculty are responsible for determining students have mastered subjects.
"There's no FCAT for graduate education," Machen said, referring to the state test for public school students.
Heekin responded, "Well there should be."
Machen has framed his plan for doctoral education as a way for UF to get ahead of critics pushing for greater accountability, such as proponents of the Texas plan. He said the university will dedicate as much as $7 million toward graduate stipends and other areas, but he has asked programs for plans on improvements that he said can be made without new funding.
He told trustees his plan for doctoral education followed their directive that the university emphasize its graduate and research programs as its distinguishing characteristics. He said changes to UF programs are difficult, referring to programs eliminated three years ago in budget cuts, but the new measures of programs provide more information to guide decisions.
"I think we're on a path that we can't turn back from," Machen said. "I have no doubt that it will make us a better institution, but it's not going to be an easy journey to get there."
Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.