The governor has long been a supporter of STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — because he knows that many of the state’s fastest growing industries fall in one of these categories.
He argued last year that lawmakers should put more money into these fields, even if it means less for liberal arts and social sciences.
“How many more jobs you think there is for anthropology in this state?” Scott told a group of business leaders last year. “You want to use your tax dollars to educate more people that can’t get jobs in anthropology? I don’t.”
To him, practical degrees in business and law were his ticket to joining a top firm and eventually becoming a hospital executive. Students should have a game plan before they step foot on campus, he said.
“Very few people have the financial wherewithal to say, ‘I’m going to go take four years and I’m going to learn about something that I know will have no impact on my ability to make money,’ ” Scott said.
The governor believes the state has done students a disservice by not providing clear answers on their employment prospects and what kind of money they can make with certain degrees. He is pushing colleges to collect that data and share it so they can be held accountable for outcomes.
He said students will still be able to make their own choices, based on their interests and strengths. But they will at least know what they are getting themselves into, especially if they are taking out student loans to pay for that degree.
“If you get a degree in an area where there’s no job opportunities, just think about what will happen to you,” Scott said. “You spent four years of your time, you probably today have a lot of debt and you don’t have a job. That’s not what you want when you got out.”
But social sciences and liberal arts remain popular not only among students but educators, who said job prospects in these fields can be just as strong as any STEM major.
Paul Dosal, University of South Florida’s vice provost for student success, received degrees in history and worked in the field for many years. He knows English majors who became teachers and others who became stock brokers. Studying culture and politics and society gives students an understanding of the world that makes them better citizens and employees, he said.
“We’re not just preparing students for a particular vocation,” Dosal said. “Moreover, there’s enough evidence out there to show the value of pursuing a degree in history or English.”
Swaying public opinion
Access, cost and quality. What Florida and the entire nation are figuring out is how to strike a balance between the three.
Scott has said many times that he only wanted to start the dialogue on how colleges and universities can improve and make the most of their state dollars while providing the best benefit for students.
“I didn’t think there was enough conversation about our students getting jobs when they walk out the door,” he said.
But even if the Legislature and various governing boards controlling schools sign on, Scott must persuade the public. That could be tough. Last week’s Quinnipiac University poll concluded that 45 percent of Floridians don’t approve of the job Scott’s doing compared to 36 percent who do. Over half of respondents said he doesn’t deserve a second term in office.
When the pollsters asked about specific education policies, 73 percent of responders agreed with Scott in opposing giving top schools the flexibility to raise tuition. But they also said, by a 2-to-1 margin, that the state should not charge students less for enrolling in STEM.
“I believe if you ask the parents they would tell you that they paid the taxes for public higher education and their children should be able to study what their children want to study,” Barron said.
But the state could still do more to promote target areas, he said, such as offering scholarships for students pursuing certain degrees.
State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan said Scott has shown a passion for higher education and courage in proposing ideas that may not be popular across the board.
“If people will just take a breath and recognize what he is asking for, what he is demanding,” Brogan said, “he is demanding the same shot he got, and the same shot I got, and that we never close the door to that shot to the students or potential students of the state of Florida.”
Contact Tia Mitchell at email@example.com or 850-224-7263.