South Florida Business Journal: Critical Conversations: Education

South Florida Business Journal

Budget cuts drive schools’ need for entrepreneurial approach

Kevin Gale, Editor In Chief

Tight budgets are prompting public schools to get more creative, providing business opportunities for private schools, our Critical Conversation panelists say.
Tests scores in public schools are showing progress, but they explained how many students are still falling short of being prepared for college or to make a career choice.
The discussion is part of the Business Journal’s ongoing Critical Conversations series, which has covered topics including health care, banking, manufacturing and the economy.

What follows is an edited transcript of the discussion, which was moderated by senior reporter Brian Bandell.

Q: What is the biggest issue and challenges for your institution?

A: Cecil Kidd, Pembroke Pines campus president, Keiser University: The biggest challenge for all of us is funding issues – finding resources for students to attend. That’s not only their tuition, but working adults are trying to maintain their job and take care of their families.

D. Michael Fields, dean and professor of marketing, Nova Southeastern University ’s H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship: Responding to a changing corporate marketplace – the fact that industry is more demanding in the skill sets they want students to have and making sure we better meet those expectations.

J. David Armstrong, president, Broward College : Having enough facilities to accommodate all the students who want to go to Broward College. I’ve been here four years and enrollment is up 30 percent. Our penetration is much less than Miami-Dade and the state average, but we have the highest utilization rate of any of our state institutions. In our downtown Fort Lauderdale center, we have classes that start at 6:30 a.m. [Days after the panel discussion, BC said it might need to tear down the center to build a more modern facility.]

Kathy Mizereck, executive director, Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools and Colleges: Making the most efficient and effective use of the resources out there – state, federal, local, whatever – to make sure students have access to higher education.

Roberto C. Blanch, chairman, Mater Academy, and attorney, Siegfried Rivera Lenrer De La Torre & Sobel, P.A.: Funding is No. 1. In addition, we have the means and ability to locate some facilities, but we run into roadblocks – be it neighbors that don’t want schools in their backyard or some political or government resistance.

Jeffrey J. Hernandez, CEO, National Academic Educational Partners: Developing the leadership and the instructional staff that is going to be preparing students for postsecondary education. The way we were taught is not the way students need to be prepared and taught these days.

Amy Padolf, director of education, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden: Funding challenges and space challenges. We sit on 83 acres, but most of that is a botanic garden. We are building a science village. [A news release says Fairchild’s five-year vision is to support the Science Village with 10 Ph.D. scientists, 20 Ph.D. students and 40 undergraduate research students.

Q: The Legislature has been cutting funding for education. Has the quality of schools suffered as a result?

A: Fields: I think the running joke is state institutions are going from being state supported to state assisted to state located. It is forcing state institutions to act more like private institutions. They have to be more concerned about endowments and making sure there is a reason to drive a certain program.

Armstrong: I think our quality continues to rise. Our state universities and colleges, like Broward College, are measured in so many different ways, such as SAT scores of freshmen, number of books in the library and endowment. Harvard and the usual ones tend to pop up high on the quality list. We measure by how well we are able to prepare students to assume a career.
We have had to become more entrepreneurial to backfill some of the cuts. So you see UF coming into the community with an executive MBA program. As state funding is cut, it limits the opportunities for STEM [science, technology, engineering, math] programs at universities or other opportunities. We have a list of programs that we’d like to start to help our local businesses.

Kidd: Private-sector schools can fill those voids. We just built a 78,000-square-foot campus off I-75 in Pembroke Pines, and opened a newly relocated facility in Miami. We have the ability to raise private funds, now that we are a not-for-profit.

Mizereck: Our members use private capital to build, lease or buy space and staff, equip it and open programs. Because they are not state supported, they are not as affected by cuts. Our students get financial aid, so we try to stay vigilant.
The universities are beginning to be entrepreneurial and creative. One of the things the University of Florida has done is create a new spring-summer academic year. Students enroll and go in spring and summer, but they won’t be there in the fall. It’s a way to stretch resources better.

Blanch: As far as our schools go, I don’t think there has been a negative impact on quality of education measured by test stores, graduation rates and getting into colleges. But I am worried about how many more cuts you can take and run a good program that assists the kids.

Hernandez: I think, by nature, educators always do more with less. Our tests scores across Florida continue to increase, but the funding has been reduced in all districts. I think we are reaching the point where we have gone as far as we can to streamline things for students. It could cut into opportunities to enrich their academic programs.
More students have to take remediation when they reach college. Closing the achievement gap in high schools is expensive.

Padolf: We have the opportunity to act and help in these situations. At the undergraduate and graduate levels, we offer opportunities such as interacting with our scientists or doing postsecondary education work with scientists in our garden.
We created the Fairchild Challenge for environmental education based on STEM learning [a concept championed by President Barack Obama]. It allows schools to add to what they are doing. We had students create concepts for LEED-certified classrooms – they did drawings and specifications. There are performing arts, debate and culinary experiences.
We are working with universities to offer internship and resident assistantships. This year, we have one of our partnerships with the FDA and FIU. Students work with scientists and botanists to learn more about these subjects so they are more focused when they go off to college.

Hernandez: This education funding [situation] has asked educators to think outside of the box. I work with Mater and they have started a virtual school. They can’t provide the level of instruction they used to provide in the classroom, with the same teacher/student ratio. In the past, you could have five students taking Advanced Placement physics. You can’t maintain that.

Q: Does the funding situation sometimes penalize these high-achieving students?
Blanch: You are right, and I think the legislators are the ones who have to answer that. They are the ones who have to find a way to not undercut education funding – and I am calling them out.

Kidd: We need to be creative as educators, and not be stuck in the previous century. Think about airplanes and engineering. In World War II, they had to build the airplane and fly it to see if it would fly. Today, it’s all designed by computer. When it hits the runway, it can fly.
Can you teach students to do the engineering virtually? Absolutely. There are some who believe 20 years from now we will see very little brick-and-mortar education. We can’t even build enough buildings fast enough to accommodate demand. Our online program is growing rapidly, and it’s about access.
Hernandez: I’m optimistic about online, and we are proponents of that. My message is that the innovative thinking you are alluding to should not come as a response to the undercutting. We, as educators, have that obligation, irrespective of budget cuts.

Kidd: It takes money to roll out online.

Mizereck: I think the lack of resources have forced people to accelerate some programs. Advanced Placement has been a long-time problem. A small school may have only one AP student in chemistry. You try to provide differentiated curriculum. More of us are seeing those situations.
Hernandez: Educators will always do more with less because it’s about the kids. Despite the beatings we take every year, as educators, we continue to do our jobs. Scores are up amid one of the worst years in budgetary history.

Padolf: There needs to be a happy balance between online and the experience. There is an important piece that is missing: problem solving and critical thinking.

Q: Is there a disconnect in South Florida between the skills employers are looking for and skill sets universities are able to teach?

Kidd: At our university, there is not. We employ advisory committees in each of our disciplines. We work closely with the business community. We call ourselves Florida’s statewide career institution for a reason.
Thirty years ago, if you came out with a degree, you had many mid-management opportunities. Today, employers need to get people up and running quickly, and they need them with specific skills sets.

Fields: I think we have to respond more quickly to marketplace needs and employment needs. We did research and asked the major employers, ‘If there was one new skill set, what would it be?’ These companies filled in the blanks, and that has driven our response. We are very involved with marketplace-based education and driving value more quickly.
Fifty to 70 percent of CEOs are saying in surveys that they are doing no or limited hiring next year. Not only are the typical outlets not hiring, but there is this tremendous backlog of displaced professionals who are willing to take entry-level wages to get a job and get benefits. The last thing we all want, as educators, is to have our graduates come out and not be able to find jobs.

Armstrong: [At] the Fort Lauderdale Alliance, we do hear there are gaps. There are potentially lost opportunities if our universities and colleges don’t have the funding to start up or enhance programs, such as in technology, biotechnology or science. What happens then is Research in Motion, or one of the networking or IT companies, has to reach out to the Northeast or the West Coast to attract Ph.D. software engineers to fill the gaps they have.
We are hosting roundtables with businesses to ask: What are those emerging trends? What are the gaps? Where can we, as colleges, work to create a track and support you?

Mizereck: I don’t think programs and institutions focused on careers have a skill gap because they are constantly checking. It’s their mission.
More generally, there are some programs that don’t prepare students for jobs. Some may choose a program that they are passionate about.

Armstrong: A lot of students have bachelor’s degrees in psychology, and they make very good waiters. Then we get yelled at in Tallahassee. Some do go on to get advanced degrees and become clinical psychologists.
You see things like ‘time to degree’ legislation. The state will only pay for a certain number of hours, and then they are going to start charging more.
Students are becoming smarter consumers: What is this going to do to me? What is this going to do to me if I rack up a lot of debt?
We try to discourage them from using debt at all. We try to encourage them to get merit aid. We try to give them Personal Finance 101 and tell them the government will track you down to your grave to get repayment.
Hernandez: Students are growing up a lot faster, and they are making those decisions at a much younger age. I remember a lot of contemporaries when I was in school, and they didn’t have a clue what they wanted to do. And that persisted through college, and then it was ‘Sorry buddy, it’s too late.’

Mizereck: A second question that needs to be asked: To what degree should the taxpayer subsidize that choice? One of the discussions in the Legislature in the past is, if David wants to offer psychology on his campus, the student is going to have to pay full fare. That’s a legitimate policy discussion. That’s when people get very upset.
I used to work with K-12, and you don’t want to fight with the arts teachers. They believe there is a legitimate public interest served by the arts programs.

Padolf: The issue is we want students to find their interests before they get to the university – before they start spending their money and get into debt. We want to expose them to a lot off different things. We want to know what their interest is, but find opportunities within that interest. If they spend eight-plus hours a day at a job, they have to love it.
You want them not doing what I did – I was a psych major for a minute and a half, and a sociology major for a minute and a half, and I ended up with an undergraduate degree in rhetoric – so I have a B.S. in B.S.

Fields: NSU’s Fischler School has a National Institute for Educational Options. It’s designed to drive referendums that give students more choice and to know better what their options are and where they can go and what they can study.

Armstrong: There is a relatively new Junior Achievement facility on our north campus. For every fifth- and eighth-grader, we are trying to expose them to career opportunities – getting them to think about entrepreneurship and what it’s like to take out a bank account and pay for things. More could be done, but they are becoming more career savvy.

Q: Is the average Florida high school graduate prepared for college coursework?
Hernandez: A large majority of students graduating from all districts across the nation are taking remediation in reading and mathematics when they get to college.
Our work is changing because of the student population we are serving. We are getting students in 10th grade who speak no English, and when they graduate from the 12th grade, they are expected to be a proficient learner.

Blanch: Empirically, there is data that they are not ready. As educators, we need to answer that. As do parents. We have had a hard time at Mater with some parents who look at the rigorous demands placed on students, which we feel are needed to place them in college. Some parents say, ‘Don’t do that, not to my little baby.’

Mizereck: I don’t think there is such a thing as an average Florida high school graduate. Some take advantage of dual enrollment and AP. They are amazing and well prepared. Then, there are kids who are barely making it out of high school. Then, there is the big group in the middle. I don’t want to throw K-12 under the bus.
There are a lot of high school graduates who don’t know what they want to do. They try college a little and they don’t like. They go to work for a while and realize they don’t want to work at a minimum-wage job.
When that attitude or maturation occurs, they approach learning and studying differently.

Hernandez: Teaching in the absence of learning is just talking.

Mizereck: In kindergarten, 99 percent of the responsibility of learning is on the teacher. In high school, it’s 80 percent student and 20 percent teacher. A lot of teachers work their butts off, and there are kids who don’t pay attention.

Padolf: It’s important for us to be able to assess if students are getting it or not to make sure the way we are teaching is not just a memorization for an exam. So, they get it in multiple ways – not just through the textbook, but through experiential learning and technical learning. So students who may not be getting it one way can get it another way.

Armstrong: Here’s the good news: A lot of progress is being made; 25 to 30 percent of student in public and private high schools are getting a fabulous education and can succeed.
We know what is needed and we have teachers who know how to do it. Unfortunately, the majority of students beyond the 25 to 30 percent don’t get the access, don’t get the support. It’s a family issue or a lot of social issues in their community.
Policies implemented by the Legislature and government are starting to show progress. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAPE) scores are trending in the right direction. Policy change, such as increasing math and science curriculum requirements as core requirements, is a challenge because we don’t have adequately prepared math and science teachers.

Fields: The more you are an open-access institution, the greater the need for remediation. You need to get those students up to speed and emotionally ready to be in college. If not, you need to help them exit the process – sometimes voluntarily and sometimes involuntarily.
You put an instructor in an impossible situation when there is such a wide variation. If you have great students, you are doing to do a disservice to them because the class has been dumbed down.

Kidd: About 60 percent of Keiser’s population is over 25. We are seeing a lot of students who weren’t ready to go into college in the first round. We are seeing more and more adult workers ready to take on a collegiate workload.

Fields: We have working professionals who made some poor choices in undergraduate degrees and come out with poor GPAs. That doesn’t prohibit them from pursuing a graduate program if they demonstrate that they are ready to step up.

Hernandez: I’m a very proud Floridian because our education program is very, very rigorous and robust in providing the students the preparation they need to move forward. Educators are held to a very high standard.
A prepared high school graduate four years ago might not be one now. We have to be very sensitive to that. I might need an intervention. Maybe the skills I acquired are not preparing me for the new expectation of the workforce. Our Florida Department of Education has created a venue of being aware of where public education is now.

Armstrong: Policies have been put in place. If funding is put in place and we can get trained teachers and implement these policies, I think five years from now the answer would be yes. The foundation is there. The framework is there.

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