Rick Scott’s Forgotten (and Deleted) Higher Ed Agenda

Recent reporting on Rick Scott’s Higher Education record has left out some interesting things.

In 2012, if you visited FLHigherEd.org, you would have found a report by Gov. Rick Scott’s Blue Ribbon Education Task Force (BRTF) on State Higher Education Reform. The link is dead now, but in 2012 it lead to an undownloadable report [pdf]. The task force was made largely of Florida Chamber of Commerce representatives and outlined a highly aggressive attack on the State University System. In a set of recommendations on accountability, funding, and governance, the report details a power grab by the Executive Branch and Florida’s political-corporate elite over the State University System.

Some of the most extreme recommendations involve transferring power over the State University System (SUS) to the Board of Governors (BOG),  82% of which is Governor appointed. The report suggests that university funding be entirely performance based using metrics created by the BOG, and that the BOG have total budgetary control over the SUS, an authority that lies constitutionally with the legislature.

The report also suggests that universities realign their goals and mission statements to meet BRTF recommendations. These recommendations have accountability metrics that include measures of how many bachelor’s degrees are created in areas of “strategic emphasis”. The majors that are considered “strategic” are conveniently left to the BOG and the voices of industry in Florida.

Another accountability metric is the average salary of graduates, which invariably deprioritizes many (and increasingly more) courses of study. The report also states that degrees in majors of “market determined demand”, tuition should be lower, and state funding higher.

The BOG was to create “rewards” for universities who complied with their metrics, and was to have more influence in Presidential searches. See a quick breakdown here. Though the report received little media attention, it was rejected in full by the Florida State University Student Government Senate in a series of resolutions, and was opposed in the Florida House and Florida Senate by FSU Progress Coalition.

In the 2013 legislative session that followed the BRTF Report, a brutal 83 page education bill passed through the House and Senate with little notice. This legislation took considerable steps toward accomplishing Gov. Scott’s Blue Ribbon recommendations, most notably giving the BOG the power to cut off state funding to any university that it deems out of compliance with it’s operational directives, effectively giving it veto power over a legislative appropriation (sec. 1, 28). It authorizes the BOG to designate majors of “high demand” and strategic emphasis (sec. 5, 8) which are then used as criteria for performance funding. Additionally, the bill:

  1. establishes bonus pay for public university employees (sec. 3) [think University Presidents]
  2. allows preeminent universities to charge “Market Rate” tuition, different tuition for different majors (sec. 9)
  3. require that the BOG create a new college placement test (sec. 26)
  4. restructures the Higher Education Coordinating Council to be increasingly Governor and Industry appointed (sec. 11)

Rick Scott’s Market Based University System

This makes pretty clear the specific Higher Education goals of a second Scott administration. Coerce  universities into conforming to the demands of private interests. Majors picked on “market determined demand”, and then subsidized, and cranked out as cheaply as possible under threat of executive audits.

Market Based Missions/Tuition/Curriculum/Governance and the creation of rewards and punishments for compliance… this is a system by which the universities have no choice but to conform to BOG/corporate demands. Industry determined “strategic interest” is simply private interest. The justification for this is the false assertion that the education system is to be held responsible for “economic growth”.

Rick Scott’s entire Blue Ribbon Education Task Force, and his 83 page education bill, are in line with Charles Koch’s statement in 1974 that industry should support “only those programs, departments or schools that “contribute in some way to our individual companies or to the general welfare of our free enterprise system.

Rick Scott’s Higher Education agenda creates an environment where universities have to compete for funding by striving to satisfy industry demands.  This competitive capital-driven model corrupts the nature of the traditional liberal arts public education system and subjects it completely to the will of corporate and political interests.

But this style is all too familiar to anyone acquainted with the ideology of Charles Koch’s free market organizational philosophy Market-Based Management®.

In fact, the system of performance metrics are not new for Rick Scott either, as this system of management is what cultivated the culture of fraud and corruption while he was CEO of HCA.  It resulted in $1.7 billion in criminal and civil fines for Medicare fraud.

AND, Rick Scott did meet with Koch in 2011 to discuss education, remarking that “it was very interesting”.

If Rick Scott wins a second term, we will see just how interesting things become.

Ralph Wilson

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