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Chancellor Brogan talks STEM degrees with House Dems

Frank Brogan, chancellor of the State University System and former lieutenant governor, spoke at length with members of the House Democratic Caucus on Tuesday, stressing the need for more STEM graduates to improve Florida's future economy.

The number of bachelor's degrees awarded in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) is up 18 percent from 2005-06, he said, and Florida's university system is among the top three in the country for those degrees. Still, he said, the system wants to grow its number of STEM graduates and propel Florida toward a knowledge-based economy.

"The future will be bright for those with a STEM degree," he said, adding that doesn't necessarily mean decreasing the number of majors in other fields.

Gov. Rick Scott has put a microphone on the STEM issue, which is smart, Brogan said, even though he earned the scorn of anthropology majors by asserting their degrees were not science-based or needed in this economy. Gov. Jeb Bush, his former partner in government, also pounded the drum to garner support for his education policies.

"He knew as governor that if you do not talk long and loudly about a priority area chances are possible that very little will happen better for that area," Brogan said. "And this governor has not shown feet of clay when it comes to announcing and regularly repeating the fact that this state's future and fortune are tied directly to our higher education system."

In its meeting last week, the Board of Governors approved its strategic plan update for 2012-2025, which had been in the works for two years and makes moves toward Florida becoming a North Carolina-esque, knowledge-based economy. The plan's STEM focus was already alive and well before Scott made it a vocal priority, he said.

Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, asked Brogan about an idea floating around to limit Bright Futures scholarships to students pursuing STEM degrees as a way of encouraging interest in those fields. The conversation on that is just starting, Brogan replied.

"My personal take, it's not a bad idea, but I'm always careful with throwing the baby out with the bath water," Brogan said.