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Jax Daily Record Thursday, May 26, 201612:00 PM EST

Scott: Encourage students to graduate in four years

by: Margie Menzel

Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday challenged Florida’s colleges and universities to help full-time students graduate in four years, in part by telling incoming freshmen how much money they’ll save if they do.

“Finish in four, save more,” Scott told business and education leaders at his “Degrees to Jobs Summit” in Orlando. “You could save $100,000 by getting out in four years rather than six years.”

Just 44 percent of undergraduates at state universities graduate within four years, according to the Florida Board of Governors, with a total of 71 percent earning a four-year degree within six years.

Since undergraduates spend about $17,000 per year on tuition, fees, books and living expenses, those finishing in four years will avoid the added cost, Scott said.

They’ll also bring in salaries for those two years, rather than paying out money to attend classes. Scott included the income from two additional years of working when saying students could save $100,000 by graduating earlier.

Additionally, the governor called for the expansion of Bright Futures scholarships to cover the summer semester and the elimination of fees for online courses.

“Some of our schools charge as much as $100 (per credit hour) for online fees,” he said. “I’d like to get rid of all those online fees.”

Scott also said he wants to make sure undergraduates get credit for taking college-level and Advanced Placement courses during high school, and for completing internships in their fields.

Senate President-designate Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who plans to make higher education his priority in next year’s legislative session, applauded Scott’s challenge in a prepared statement. Negron noted that Scott’s concerns were consistent with the feedback that he and other lawmakers received when they toured the state university system last month.

“One common element of the tour was the number of students who are working full- or part-time jobs to offset living expenses and to limit debt upon graduation,” Negron said. “We want to take steps to reduce the impact these financial insecurities have on their ability to graduate in four years.”

The first day of Scott’s invitation-only “Degrees to Jobs Summit” drew about 600 attendees, including university and college presidents and trustees and prominent members of the business community.

The governor drew standing ovations as he cited the achievements of his administration, which he said include a 4.8 percent unemployment rate and record funding for education.

“I want to tie our education system to the jobs today and the jobs of the future,” he told reporters after his speech.

That goal dovetailed with Wednesday’s keynote address by Gallup CEO Jim Clifton, author of “The Coming Jobs War,” one of Scott’s favorite books.

Clifton warned that while the national unemployment rate is just 5 percent, that number is misleading.

“The problem is that the middle class, jobs (that earn) between $55,000 and $85,000 are closing,” he said. “It’s like the old buffalo herds. Man, they are just going away.”

Of 250 million Americans, Clifton said, 10 percent have fallen from the middle class and are making working-class wages.

“You have an enormous life crisis, and if you’re very old at all, you have no hope of getting back to that number,” he added.

In order to reverse the trend, Clifton said, the annual growth in the gross domestic product of the U.S. must be 3.75 percent, but the country has averaged 1.7 percent growth for the last 16 years.

To rebuild the middle class, he said, education and business leaders must find and nurture the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

“Innovation by itself has no value unless a customer is standing next to it,” he said. “And we have to be as intentional about creating companies as we are about innovation.”

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