TALLAHASSEE -- UF President Bernie Machen emphasized the importance of general education along with science and math during a conversation with the Florida House of Representatives higher education committee in Tallahassee on Friday.
Last month, Rep. Bill Proctor, chair of the higher education committee, invited all 11 state university system presidents to participate in discussions focused on improving higher education in the state.
"We simply want to solicit, as best we can, their opinions," Proctor said on Friday.
Machen and Proctor discussed the possibility of tying some financial aid to STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — degrees.
If more Bright Futures Scholarship money were available to STEM majors, it might help some students decide what to study, Machen said.
Allocating more financial aid to STEM majors could improve the four-year graduation rate, he said.
Additionally, Machen suggested universities charge higher tuition for STEM degrees because of their high cost to schools relative to other degrees.
Universities could make a case for charging higher tuition for programs that cost more, he said. "It's very defensible."
Another idea Machen presented to the committee was a common undergraduate experience in the form of a course of general education classes required for all students.
UF undergrads enter the university with an average of 28 credit hours from advanced placement or dual enrollment classes, Machen said.
Most of the credits are for general education classes, which restricts options for classes all students would be required to complete.
The solution is to create a nine- to 12-credit multidisciplinary course based on critical thinking and problem solving that would bring students of different majors together in the same room.
"The only time they get together is on football Saturday," a problem that needs to be fixed, he said.
Committee vice chair Janet Adkins asked if requiring the course would decrease the four-year graduation rate, a main concern of Machen's.
He said most students' failure to graduate in four years is because they don't want to leave, not because they can't complete required classes.
"How do we get these incredibly bright young people to come to college and then leave?" Machen asked. "I just can't get them to leave."