The Miami Herald has a good interview with Mark Rosenberg, who recently stepped down as chancellor in the Florida university system to return to FIU. The interview ranges all over the place, but a lot of the early focus is on the budget problems and Charlie Crist's call for as much as a 15% hike in tuition in order to allow Florida universities to be competitive in faculty salaries (which I wrote about earlier this week). It's an interesting interview (well, the first couple of pages, anyway), although more because of the questions than the answers.

Q.Florida ranks 50th in faculty-student ratio. Money per student has fallen. There are budget cuts. There are fewer class options. Programs are being cut, like FIU's industrial engineering program, despite growing demand. If you're a student in Florida hoping to go to college and you wanted to stay in state, is that a very encouraging picture?

A.Let me speak as a parent. I'm a parent with two kids in the state university system. I'm very proud of the fact that they're enrolled in the state university system. (Both attend FIU.) I think they're getting a very good education.

Our university system is very efficient. We'd like to see the ratios improve so that our students have more faculty members. Looking forward, I think you're going to begin to see that happen, largely because there is a growing recognition of the problems you've identified. There seems to be a consensus that they have to be addressed.
Rosenberg tries to avoid giving tough answers as much as possible, but the questions lay it all out there. Florida is dead last in some important categories: faculty-student ratio and money per student, and you can't have an elite university system if you're overcrowding classrooms and not spending any money on the people in them (whether students or faculty). Top twenty-five football programs are not what I would call a leading indicator off a university's academic prowess.

Which is why I'm glad to see that Crist's plan to allow Florida universities to raise tuition is getting some bipartisan support in the legislature. Yes, the economy is in bad shape, but that's actually when enrollment increases the greatest amount, so education spending in this case is a bit like infrastructure spending. Money invested in education during tough times can help a struggling economy, and it's also important to recognize that Florida's tuition rates are so low compared to much of the country that even with the increases, they're still a great deal.

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