Incoming state Senate President Joe Negron had college on the brain at the state university system’s Board of Governors meeting at UCF on Wednesday, vowing to help Florida become known for national, elite universities like the best ones in the whole United States.
After personally visiting every university in the state on a four-day bus tour earlier this year, Negron said his vision included making the state’s universities nationally known.
“My personal vision is that, at some point in time, universities in Florida will be thought of as national destination universities,” he said. “Like the University of Virginia, [the] University of Michigan, University of Texas — the general consensus is these are elite national universities. My vision is that over time, we’ll have students from Michigan, Georgia and Texas that will find commitment to programs of great distinction in Florida.”
Some of his ideas include relieving financial burdens on students.
“We have excellence at every university,” he said. “But the number one barrier for graduation is financial insecurity. It needs to be addressed to get our graduation rate where it needs to be.”
He cited an example — some students told him they took only 12 hours a semester instead of the 15 they needed just to avoid paying for the extra three hours. That, however, prevented them from graduating on time.
He said some of the ways they could alleviate financial burdens on students include returning the top tier of the Bright Future scholarship to 100 percent of a recipient’s tuition, increasing need-based aid and increasing the Florida Student Achievement Grant.
In addition, Negron said he wanted to add more research programs to Florida universities.
Negron raised opposition to the idea of increasing online courses at universities, which he admitted might just be the product of his age versus that of the younger generations.
“You know, apparently Socrates, Plato, Cicero, they’re old hacks, and we don’t need to know them anymore,” he said. “Let’s just be cautious. Learning is a communal exercise. There is value to being in a classroom setting, with people from other countries, other places in the world, who completely see the world differently than you have, and have different opinions.”
He raised a warning about those who learn in a vacuum and “spend all their time on the Internet, reconfirming all their own ideas and marinating in their own self-correctness,” calling them “dangerous.” But in the end, he said he wouldn’t infringe too much on universities and decisions about online courses would be up to the school presidents and boards.
In response to a question about what he would do for smaller universities not likely to be recognized nationwide, Negron said every university should strive to do the best it possibly could.
“I don’t differentiate between Florida State and smaller regional universities,” he said. “It is what a president wants it to be. I see every school seeking to maximize what they have. Instead of ‘where do you want to go to college?’ I want people to ask ‘what do you want to study?’ If you don’t know that, you’ll go to the wrong school.”