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."

(2) comments


Two terrible ideas.

Case one: two students are enrolled in the same physics class: one is a physics major, the other is taking physics as an elective -- so now we have to charge them different tuition and handle their aid differently? (Even though their tuition is paid and aid checks dispersed.) Oh then one of them either adds a math class or drops the physics class by the end of add/drop, thus impacting tuition and aid further. And UF has the management and oversight tools and staff to handle that and not mess up students lives??!! Riiiiight.

Not to mention the core idea: this will discourage a well rounded education, further creating apartheid between "STEM" and humanities programs. It will discourage students from taking individual courses and electives in STEM programs. (Let's not even get into the fact that there is disagreement over what is a STEM major, and that Math is housed in CLAS...)


As for interdisciplinary freshmen seminars: another awful idea. Very few universities do these "freshmen experience" seminars well, and they are generally not bureaucratic-heavy large research universities, but smaller liberal arts colleges with more flexibility and commitment to small seminars for undergraduates. UF just doesn't have that kind of flexibiilty: a class like this is taught by different professors across different disciplines. If four professors teach the freshmen experience class, each professor has a 1/4 load. There is zero institutional support -- or will -- for that kind of set up. Plus, look at the state pressure for every faculty to teach the most bodies in the least amount of time: then Pres. Machen thinks the state will now support faculty to team teach? It's schizophrenic logic.

So students, be warned: My guess is they are envisioning this as a pre packaged distance learning class of some kind as a giant way to raise revenue. Freshmen experience all right: just not the kind you had in mind.

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