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University presidents aim to meet governor's call for post-grad job placement


Presidents and administrators from Florida’s 12 public universities and one private one presented their ideas Thursday to Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet on how they plan to meet Scott's call to increase job placement of graduates in the universities' most popular programs.

The most common ideas proposed include offering career counseling services as soon as freshmen enroll and continuing that effort during the students' time on campus through dedicated advisers, internship placement programs and job-skill training activities.

Some of the more unique solutions mentioned range from free passports for Florida A&M University students in Tallahassee who study abroad to prepare themselves for a global workforce, to a freshman-year tuition rebate for students at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, who use campus career services, stay enrolled for four years and secure a job within six months of graduation.

FGCU president Wilson Bradshaw told the governor and cabinet that he expects that initiative will cost $1.5 million, which the university plans to fund through private donors.

"This will save them (the students) money and provide them with some much-needed start-up funds as they start on the path to a successful career," he said.

Each of the university presidents expressed emphatic support for Scott's "Ready, Set, Work" challenge, which he issued in December. He wants 100 percent of the students graduating from each university's two most popular programs to secure jobs within one year.

"Thank you for the emphasis you’ve given on this particular project. We’re all in," said John Thrasher, president of Florida State University in Tallahassee and a former Republican member of the Florida Senate. 

Bethune-Cookman University, a private school in Daytona Beach and one of the state's historic black colleges and universities, joined Scott's challenge voluntarily, citing the importance of the governor's message to employ graduates in high-demand areas.

Scott issued similar challenges to the state's 28 state colleges and 48 technical colleges to boost post-graduation employment of their students also.

He's offering no resources -- financial or otherwise -- to assist the institutions in meeting his challenge. However, the governor's office points out that Scott supports increasing higher education funding.

Scott has recommended that the Legislature boost performance-based incentives for higher education to a record-high $500 million in the 2016-17 budget, which lawmakers will craft in the coming weeks. Scott's budget proposal would increase performance funding dollars by $100 million, only half of which is new dollars; the other half would have to be reallocated by the universities from their base-operating budgets.

Several university presidents' solutions to meeting Scott's "Ready Set Work" challenge appeared to involve costs -- such as hiring faculty for new majors or staff for career programs.

University of Florida officials said they hadn't yet crunched the numbers, but FSU officials told the Herald/Times thaty they estimate spending altogether $1.6 million toward various initiatives, noting the money will come out of the university's pre-eminence dollars.

Provost Sally McRorie said in a statement those investments include $800,000 toward "expanding our Career Center, adding Career Liaisons embedded in our largest majors, hiring more advisors and new resources of predictive data for academic and career success, and mapping academic and career milestones for every student in every major."

They're spending another $800,000 on "entrepreneurs-in-residence who help our students learn the necessary skills to become successful entrepreneurs in whatever career field they may pursue and are opening College of Business classes to students from any major," McRorie added.

Meanwhile, other university presidents advised Scott and the rest of the Florida Cabinet that while university administrators focus on educating and employing their students in high-demand areas, the state should also focus on better preparing K-12 students for college and, later, careers in science, technology, engineering and math (or STEM) fields.

They said the state's contributions should include a focus on hiring skilled teachers and also improving technology resources, facilities and infrastructure at schools.

"One of major challenges in urban areas is the digital divide. ... A lot of students don't have access to the internet," said Mark Rosenberg, president of Florida International University in Miami. "We have to be much more aggressive in the pathways of K-8 to have teacher prep and to ensure that they also have adequate facilities."

He got agreement from some Cabinet members.

"If we’re looking at the supply chain of students that we’re going to hold you responsible for, we really ought to be identifying ways to attract the type of STEM talent in the K-12 system and make sure they have the technologies to accomplish that," Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said.