St. Petersburg Times Online: News of Florida

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

University system's future worries Herbert

The outgoing chancellor of the state's university system sees problems on the horizon for higher education.

By BARRY KLEIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 28, 2001


Adam Herbert's difficult tenure as university system chancellor ends this week, but in a final news conference Tuesday, he couldn't resist some parting shots.

He called the state's Bright Futures scholarship program a "ticking time bomb," saying it must be changed before its spiraling costs deny financially needy students an equal chance at higher education.

He urged Florida universities to reduce their emphasis on standardized tests. He specifically cited the University of Florida and Florida State University, where scores play a major role in determining who gets admitted.

And he predicted voters will have the final say on the planned overhaul of Florida's higher education system, which he once again declined to endorse.

Herbert, 57, said it was the overhaul that led to his recent decision to step down this week after three tumultuous years as chancellor. He said "both his heart and his gut" told him he was the wrong person to serve in the new system.

Starting next week, he will run a new public policy center at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, where he was president for 10 years.

In his 90-minute news conference Tuesday in Tallahassee, Herbert ranged over a variety of topics. As always, he showed little emotion, even when talking about incidents that caused him considerable pain.

He said he has no regrets about his support for "One Florida," the controversial plan that bans consideration of race in admissions decisions. As Florida's highest-ranking African-American official, Herbert's endorsement was seen as a betrayal by some black leaders.

He said he harbors no anger toward Gov. Jeb Bush, the friend who selected him to serve as his transition director. Though Herbert privately warned against key elements of the restructuring, Bush has strongly supported the changes, which includes eliminating the state Board of Regents and transferring most of their powers to university boards of trustees.

Herbert said it is a mistake to give those boards the authority to create new academic programs without state approval.

"The state simply doesn't have enough money" to create the same programs at every university, he said.

Ultimately, Herbert predicted, Florida voters will decide the fate of the plan through a ballot initiative being pushed by U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, who wants the regents restored.

"I have a great deal of respect for Sen. Graham," he said. "He obviously cares greatly about education."

Herbert spoke passionately on one subject: the enormously popular Bright Futures program.

Since it was created four years ago, Bright Futures has become Florida's largest financial aid program. That's because it pays most or all of the tuition costs of any Florida student who gets decent grades in high school.

The program is expected to cost nearly $200-million next school year, up from $75-million in 1997-98. It now serves 83,186 students, up from 43,309 in 1997-98.

Herbert said the program is cannibalizing need-based financial aid programs, and disproportionately benefiting families who can afford to send their children to college.

He thinks the minimum grade point average needed to qualify for the Florida Merit Scholars award, the most popular of the three scholarships in the program, should be increased from a 3.0 to a 3.25.

He wants to limit the lifetime amount awarded each recipient to $4,000, though students who qualify for the Academic Scholars Award, which is considerably tougher to earn, would be eligible for up to $8,000.

He said those "tweaks" would save $54.7-million, which could be used to assist poorer families.

It also would comply with state law, which requires that financial aid in Florida be provided primarily on the basis of need.

"The question is are we going to ignore the state's commitment," Herbert said.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.