Spending lag in South Florida's higher education alarming, report indicates
By Frank Norton
Unless South Florida can mobilize its burgeoning higher education industry into a sustainable economic driver, its future will be to get bigger and poorer, said Philip Blumberg, executive vice chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce South Florida Initiatives Program.
According to a recent report Mr. Blumberg presented at a Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce meeting, South Florida is the 4th most populous region in the US but ranks No. 8 in per capita operating expenditures for higher education and 9th in per capita for bachelor's degrees, not far ahead of Detroit and Houston.
"We don't just need shared marketing, we need real integration," Mr. Blumberg last week told an audience of educators and business leaders. "The best thing that ever happened to the University of Miami was FIU, and the best that could to those schools is increased competition."
A one-year-old consortium for higher education is the cornerstone of the South Florida Initiatives program, which was created to by the chamber to promote coordination and cooperation between political and business leaders.
The report, prepared for the South Florida Consortium for Higher Education by Dabney Park and Elizabeth Wewerka of Performance Executive Search and Management Consulting, evaluated South Florida's higher education industry against a powerful backdrop of higher education statistics for other regions, particularly Atlanta. The study used Atlanta as a metropolitan benchmark, it said, due to Atlanta's size and certain shared demographic patterns.
The findings were alarming, Mr. Blumberg said. The greatest differences appear in financial data, according to the report. Colleges and universities in the Atlanta region spent more than $700 million in 1995-96 through their operating budgets than institutions in South Florida spent in 2001-02 while research spending in Atlanta outpaced South Florida by about $250 million for the same periods. Federal dollars to Atlanta also exceeded those to this region by more than $125 million.
In terms of degrees, Atlanta outpaces local institutions by roughly 7,000 annually despite having a population of 3.6 million compared to South Florida's 5 million - counting Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties.
Mr. Blumberg said the region's fastest-growing industries are technology and health care but warned that South Florida produces 1,800 fewer graduates than Atlanta in engineering, 900 fewer in health care and 600 fewer in business.
"Unless we want more of the same and to fall off the charts, we need to choose our peers," he said. "Do we want to be like Detroit and Houston? Or do we want to be like Silicon Valley in California and the Research Triangle in North Carolina. Both of those were built with strong partnerships between excellent institutions and the business community," he said, referring to Stanford, Berkeley, Duke and North Carolina State.
He said Boston, with about 60 accredited institutions, leads the nation in the most comparative indexes for higher education. There are 23 regionally accredited colleges and universities in South Florida with combined operating expenditures of about $2.81 billion.
Performance Executive Search, a Coral Gables firm, estimates the region's 23 schools have a combined economic impact of $6.5 billion on South Florida's economy.
The largest regional schools in terms of total expenditures are the University of Miami, followed by Florida International University, Miami-Dade Community College and Florida Atlantic University.
The same four schools are also the largest higher-education employers for the four-county region.