Over 200 students and higher education advocates from across the state of Florida gathered on the steps of the old Capitol building on March 4 for Rally in Tally 2010, an effort to build support for the State University System’s New Florida initiative.
The plan calls for the use of state universities’ resources to transform the overall operation of Florida’s economy.
New Florida is centered on the idea of creating a “knowledge and innovation economy,” one founded on the high-technology, high-wage jobs needed in the developing fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
To accomplish this goal, the percentage of Florida students receiving degrees in these particular areas from the 11 state universities must increase.
“The question we have to ask ourselves is, ‘what will an additional 25,000 graduates every year by 2015 do for my Florida?’,” said John Barnes, the student body president at the University of North Florida and chair of the Florida Student Association. “Not only will the number of degrees be doubled by 2030, meaning an additional 50,000 college graduates every year, year after year, but New Florida means a major talent boost for the Sunshine State.”
Barnes said that the legislature has already done a tremendous job laying the foundation for a new, pioneering economy.
He said lawmakers support a strong university system and have already begun significantly investing in bioscience.
“Innovation will feed on high-energy research and design,” Barnes said. “We’ll be sparking off new ideas and new concepts and bringing them all to the marketplace.”
Barnes said this means new products, new business and new ways of delivering and practicing medicine that will make Florida a major player in the future competitive landscape.
The legislature had listened to the voice of students in the past.
Barnes said just last year students and student advocates stood on the same steps of the Old Capitol building demanding legislative support of differential tuition and received the reform they wanted.
“It is important that we have our student government leadership and so many of our student body representatives here today,” said Frank Brogan, chancellor of the State University System of Florida. “This is indeed a very impressive show of optimistic support for something whose time has come.”
Brogan said that he has stood on the Old Capitol steps and recited an oath to uphold the Florida constitution on several occasions, once when becoming the Florida Commissioner of Education and twice as Lieutenant Governor.
He said that it was not just an oath he repeated, but one he believed in and still does today.
“We must dedicate ourselves, not only those that swore the oath, but those who live it everyday, that this is your Florida and each of you have a responsibility to make certain it is not only still here and vibrant in the future, but a better state going forward,” Brogan said. “This is a Florida that belongs to children who have yet to be born, relying on us today to make decisions on their behalf that will give them a strong education system and a shot at the great American dream that we’ve all been able to enjoy thus far.”
Brogan said that this was not a partisan issue, and stressed that a restructuring of the current economic framework is something vital to all Floridians.
“What (we) are simply asking for this year of the legislature is to stand next to those students and take the courageous step to make certain that the state is investing, that’s different than spending, important amounts of money on not only our 11 universities but the entire state of Florida,” Brogan said. “Even in these very difficult economic times, it is not an opportunity; it is an obligation, it is a responsibility to that oath.”
Brogan said he is not envious of the state legislators who have to spend the next months in the Capitol because of the difficult decisions they have to make.
He said he believes they are up to the challenge.
“Everyone in this state wants to legislature to enrich their lives directly or indirectly,” Brogan said. “I believe what we are proposing to the legislature is very different, it is simply asking for more money for the state university system.”