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FAMU Among Florida Colleges Targeted by Report For Massive Changes

FAMU Among Florida Colleges Targeted by Report For Massive Changes
State commission considers having the HBCU drop its graduate programs.
By Blair S. Walker

Florida is mulling a proposal that would convert one of the country’s premier Black universities into an institution that only grants four-year degrees.

This suggested switch in Florida A&M University’s status was made with an eye toward helping Florida’s 11 state colleges and universities better cope with explosive student growth, officials say.

“We would have to disagree with any report that would limit Florida A&M University’s ability to deliver under higher programs, and only agree to programs that help FAMU to move upward,” incoming FAMU President James H. Ammons told Black College Wire. 

For the time being, the State University System of Florida, or SUS, is merely gathering information on the proposal, which would dramatically transform the historically Black university renowned for its pharmacy school and MBA program.

The proposal came from a study done for SUS’s Board of Governors, a 17-member panel that oversees the Sunshine State’s higher education system. The study was prepared at a cost of $200,000 by the Pappas Consulting Group Inc., a Stamford, Conn.,-based company that works with educational and nonprofit organizations.

Citing Florida’s need for an “additional access point to undergraduate education over the next two decades,” the Pappas report suggests that FAMU and five other Florida schools be converted into a ‘State College System.’

The other institutions were Florida Gulf Coast University, the New College of Florida, the University of Central Florida, the University of North Florida and the University of West Florida.

The Pappas report singles out these schools because they have significantly more undergraduate students than graduate students. According to data collected by the Pappas Consulting Group, FAMU’s student makeup is 87 percent undergraduate and 13 percent graduate.

“This is the beginning of a very big project, but it’s only the beginning of it,” says board spokesman Bill Edmonds. “What the board of governors is doing is laying out a master plan for the university system as a whole for the next 30 years.”

The Pappas report concedes the change will be a hard sell among the six targeted schools. With the exception of New College, the report says the schools “have already launched a significant number of graduate programs, particularly at the master’s level … to expect them willingly to give up entirely either their graduate aspirations or their substantial autonomy is not realistic.”

FAMU Provost Debra Austin agrees with that assessment. She approaches the situation with a unique perspective, having served as SUS chancellor from 2003 through 2005.

“The recommendations of the Pappas report that any university, particularly Florida A&M, become a baccalaureate degree institution is not in the best interests of Florida A&M or the state or the nation,” she says.

“We are a large producer of graduate degrees held by African-American students in the fields of law, pharmacy, physics and business, among others,” she adds. “Were this institution not able to offer graduate education, think what a tremendous loss that would be for the business community or the physics community, to give two examples.”

Resistance from FAMU or the other schools on the prospective State College System list might be surmounted through the use of financial incentives, the Pappas report suggests.

Florida’s state university system has a $8.2 billion annual budget, of which state taxpayers contribute $2.5 billion. The Pappas report raises the possibility of pegging state funding to a school’s graduation rate. FAMU’s four-year graduation rate of 12.5 percent was the lowest among Florida colleges and universities, while the university’s 41.9 percent six-year graduation rate placed seventh among the 10 institutions that offer six-year degrees.

The Pappas study was commissioned with the goal of helping the State University System of Florida deal with burgeoning student demand, Edmonds says. Over the past five years, the student population for Florida’s 11 state colleges and universities has increased by 50,000, boosting overall student numbers to 294,000.

Turning FAMU into a four-year degree school was one of many potential innovations proposed by the report. SUS is in the midst of a statewide circuit to get feedback on the State College System proposal, as well as other suggested innovations in the study. 

A recent public meeting in Orlando “didn’t get a lot of public response,” says Edmonds. So SUS had planned a roundtable format for a meeting in Florida’s Panhandle region late last month.

The board of governors is not expected to make a decision on the proposal until the latter part of 2007 at the earliest, Edmonds says, with 2008 being more likely.

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