The Florida Gators and the Florida State Seminoles have one of the strongest rivalries in the country. It takes an important cause to bring us together. We write as the presidents of these universities to share our common mission and invite South Floridians to join the cause: making Florida the top national destination to learn, create, work, and live.
Thanks to the visionary and ongoing support particularly of Senate President Joe Negron, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott, Florida is beginning to realize the benefit of recent investment in our universities. Last month, U.S. News and World Report declared Florida the best state in the nation for higher education based on value and performance. The University of Florida was ranked 14; Florida State, 38.
We are on the rise, but we can do so much more.
Right now, Florida lawmakers are debating the future of higher education. Should we take our universities to the next level by investing the resources needed to create top-tier universities? Do we hit the brakes because good is good enough? The answers to these questions reach far beyond the college campuses and affect the life of every Floridian.
We know there is a direct correlation between the prosperity of a state and the quality of its higher education institutions. We contribute by:
▪ Research, such as the groundbreaking work FSU and UF are doing to treat and control Zika. Together, Florida institutions have more than $2.1 billion in research expenditures.
▪ Teaching, by preparing the state’s workforce for the jobs of the future in an incredibly competitive global economy. And it’s not just for students from wealthy families. Florida is a national leader in successfully supporting students from all backgrounds.
▪ Service, by partnering with businesses and communities to share knowledge, resources, and expertise. Private companies licensing technology from UF infused nearly $2.3 billion into the state of Florida economy in 2015 and accounted for the employment of more than 10,600 people. FSU’s medical school has generated over $1 billion in statewide socioeconomic impact through its regional clinical campuses that employ more than 2,300 clinical faculty members. who teach students and provide medical care for countless patients in rural and underserved populations throughout Florida.
We are doing great work, but we can and should do more. Nationally, Florida universities are far behind their peers in several key areas, which is keeping us from realizing their full potential. We don’t have enough faculty to advise and teach students, and we need to increase research funding, attract nationally recognized faculty, and improve compensation for graduate students.
Targeted investment, by the state, in performance funding, preeminence funding, the World Class Faculty Scholar program, the Professional and Graduate Degree Excellence program, student scholarships, and university physical infrastructure, will show the national higher-education community that Florida is committed to providing high-quality education, research, and public service to the state and nation.
We must continue our efforts — the existing top institutions in the rest of the country aren’t standing still.
All of which brings us back to the original question: Why should having top-ranked universities matter?
Simply, because it is a reflection of the entire state and its people.
A state with top-ranked universities stands as a beacon signaling to the rest of the country that it values progress, knowledge, and economic growth and opportunity.
Tourism, real estate and agriculture drive the state’s economy. Florida has long sought to add a fourth leg to this stool, and its research universities have been partners in this effort by joining local and state governments in building our growing technology economy.
Having top-ranked universities also signals this is a state that values the future — not just its own but that of the entire nation, and it wishes to contribute to that future in meaningful ways.
Perhaps most important, having top-ranked universities signals that this is a state that values its young people enough to give them the best shot possible at a bright future without having to go elsewhere to find it.
That alone is a goal worth reaching.
As all of our research universities reach the next level of excellence, we will transform the state together, helping Florida to rise as a leader in commerce, culture and international stature.
We may be rivals on the football field, but we stand united in doing all we can to continue to improve our state.
John Thrasher is president of Florida State University. Kent Fuchs is president of the University of Florida.