FSU and the SUS performance-based funding program: Should FSU be trying to improve its metrics? Or just say the program is unfair?

A significant amount of funding for Florida’s State University System (SUS) institutions is now distributed using a performance-based funding program that financially rewards institutions for addressing some of the state’s policy priorities.

The state’s two “preeminent” (and oldest) public institutions – the University of Florida and Florida State University – start from fundamentally different places when it comes to the state’s policy priorities, which focus in part on producing graduates (at both the bachelor’s and graduate levels) in fields where demand for these graduates is highest.

The University of Florida is the state’s land grant institution and thus has always been oriented more toward engineering, science, health professions and agriculture than the arts and humanities.

Despite Florida State University’s world-class programs in some STEM fields – many of which were established after World War II when GI’s came to universities in droves – the university’s beginnings as a college for women were focused on the arts and humanities, and the institution’s balance still reflects those origins.

So UF fits comfortably into the emphasis on “Programs of Strategic Emphasis” (PSE) metrics built into the performance funding program, while FSU does not.

The figure below illustrates one of the metrics used in the performance funding program – the percentage of an institution’s bachelors’ degrees that are awarded in Programs of Strategic Emphasis.  FSU is ranked last in the SUS – even behind New College – and UF is ranked first.


It’s worth noting that Programs of Strategic Emphasis include not only the category of STEM fields, but also the categories of Education, Health, Global Competitiveness and something called “Gap Analysis”, which is a list generated by finding fields outside of the other categories for which in-state demand exceeds supply. A few examples from the “Gap Analysis” category: Accounting, Banking and Human Resources.

Being last in this metric (and ranking low in the corresponding metric for graduate degrees in PSE and the metric for salaries for recent bachelor’s degree graduates – which as you can imagine depends sensitively on the mix of majors of the bachelors’ degrees awarded) costs FSU money.  So what, if anything, should FSU do to address this?

To improve in the bachelor’s degree metric shown above, FSU would have to significantly increase its graduates in the PSE degree categories (I prefer that approach to cutting arts and humanities graduates, where FSU has historical strength).  And to increase PSE graduates, the university would have to focus on recruiting more strong students in those fields.

How could FSU do this?  Some ideas:

  • Address the shortages of seats in science and math courses caused by the lack of science-specific facilities like laboratories, computer classrooms and SCALE-UP classrooms (of which only two are presently available for use by science departments) by making the construction of new facilities for teaching undergraduate science, math and computing the highest priority for the university’s academic construction program.  The construction of a new science-math-computing teaching facility should be supplemented by the renovation of existing underutilized science buildings.
  • Concentrate merit-based scholarships on students who have taken high-level math and science courses like calculus and physics in high school.  FSU still admits students who have had no high school math course higher than Algebra 2.
  • Invest in outreach to math and science teachers in high schools around the state so that these teachers know the strengths of FSU’s STEM programs.  (Fun fact:  A joint task force of the American Physical Society and the American Association of Physics Teachers will soon cite FSU’s undergraduate program in physics as a national research university model. It will then be official that FSU has the best undergraduate physics program in the state.)

Would such a focus on increasing the number of graduates in Programs of Strategic Emphasis be bad for FSU?  I have colleagues who believe it would be because it would change the university’s historic level of emphasis on the arts and humanities, and that the PSE  and starting salary metrics should just be ignored because they are not “fair”.

FSU’s leadership should be weighing the perceived costs and practical benefits of a focus on building up the university’s Programs of Strategic Emphasis.  The decisions made in the next few years will impact the institution’s fiscal destiny for years to come.


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