Board applies reins on state universities

New rules requiring goals for each campus further assert the 5-year-old panel's control.

Published December 7, 2007

ORLANDO - Continuing to exert its constitutional authority over Florida's 11 state universities, the Board of Governors endorsed a growth and improvement plan requiring that each university map out short-term, measurable goals in areas such as student retention and research.

The board will work with universities in the next several months to create the "compacts."

Chancellor Mark Rosenberg and board Chairwoman Carolyn Roberts see the compacts as a way for the board and universities to better plan each institution's progress and improve the system as a whole.

"The point is, we're all in this together," Roberts said. "This says we will be active in making sure there's a strategic plan in place for our citizens and our universities."

'Velvet glove'

But the required compacts also are a sort of "velvet glove" way for the board to control the direction of the 11 universities, after years of politically charged competition for state funding and academic programs.

The compacts come as the board awaits a court ruling on a lawsuit against the Legislature claiming the board, not lawmakers, has the power to set tuition.

The decision on compacts was part of a larger discussion on the board's "Forward by Design" plan for the university system.

Among the provisions the board endorsed - to be finalized in coming months - are plans to increase bachelor's degree production by rewarding universities for strong retention and graduation rates. The board also plans to fund enrollment in a way that promotes access and diversity, and to expand need-based aid.

The board is leaving the creation of master's degree programs in the hands of individual boards of trustees.

But from now on, the board wants to work closely with universities to set parameters for new master's level programs.

That might mean capping the number of new programs a university could create within a given time frame, for example. And if a master's program falls short of degree production goals, the board reserves the right to dissolve it and revoke trustees' ability to create master's programs.

'Horrible message'

"It sends a horrible message that we're approving new master's programs when we're freezing freshman enrollment and not taking care of the students who want to start their college career," said board member Charlie Edwards."In this process, there has to be a chance for the board to say stop, no more."

Also Thursday, the board approved a code of conduct aimed at preventing inappropriate relationships between universities, their financial aid officers and lenders.

Under the code, public university employees can't accept "anything of more than nominal value" from lenders. Universities cannot accept a share of loan revenue or other favors in return for giving preferential treatment to lenders seeking student business.

Companies couldn't give away free printing or other services. And universities must tell students they have a choice of lenders.

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