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UCF, FIU reject idea of state college system

The state Board of Governors hears resistance to a consultant’s suggestion for some schools to focus on undergraduates.

By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published January 24, 2007


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BOCA RATON — State university leaders are a long way from deciding whether to establish a separate group of colleges dedicated solely to undergraduate education.

But the presidents of two of Florida’s fastest growing and most ambitious schools made it clear Wednesday that if such a group is ever created, they have no interest in being members.

The presidents of the University of Central Florida and Florida International University dismissed the notion that they would ever abandon their research ambitions and graduate programs.

“It doesn’t matter how big the carrot is, we don’t want to opt in,” FIU president Mitch Maidique said at a meeting of the Board of Governors, which oversees Florida’s 11 public universities.

“As we try to recruit at least one member of the National Academy in the weeks ahead, having it suggested that our status be altered is not helpful,” said UCF president John Hitt. “It’s not helpful to have this hanging over us.”

The recommendation to create a so-called “state college” system is just one of several suggested fixes outlined by Pappas Consulting Group Inc., a consultant hired by the board last year to give a blunt assessment of the system.

And it’s not a new idea. In the late 1990s, then-Chancellor Adam Herbert tried and failed to establish a three-tier system of universities, with the University of South Florida, Florida State University and the University of Florida at the top. FIU and UCF were in the middle tier.

But Pappas’ state college idea may be even more controversial, mainly due to the growing competition among Florida universities.

UF is the state’s flagship, the only one in the invitation-only Association of American Universities.

FSU and USF are vying to get in, and UCF and FIU last year got Board of Governors’ approval to establish medical schools that will likely boost their national profiles and the amount of research money they pull in.

Pappas, to Hitt’s dismay, cited UCF as one of six colleges that could be included in a system to award only bachelor’s degrees.

But Pappas vice president Stephen Portch stressed Wednesday that there would have to be an “opt-in” system, where existing institutions get financial incentives for changing their focus.

He acknowledged that the “carrot” needed to pull in an ambitious university like UCF, already a leader in research areas like optics and photonics, may be too expensive and impractical at this point.

A more practical approach, Portch and Pappas CEO Alceste T. Pappas suggested, would be to turn large branch campuses and community colleges into undergraduate institutions. Even private independent universities could be part of the system, they said.

Pappas spent four months reviewing data and interviewing university officials, state university leaders and community representatives before releasing its report.

Pappas is recommending expanded distance education offerings, more funding for high-demand programs like nursing and teacher education and research programs that contribute to economic development.

The Board of Governors made no decisions on those ideas Wednesday, and cautioned university leaders not to get upset or lose sight of the state’s needs.

The board will spend the next several months gathering public input on the Pappas report, through public hearings and meetings with interested parties.

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at (813) 226-3403 or svansickler@sptimes.com.

[Last modified January 24, 2007, 21:28:03]


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