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Legislative Preview: Groups in FL, WI Outline Strategies for High-Growth Economies

November 07, 2012

Ahead of the 2013 legislative sessions, groups in Florida and Wisconsin unveiled reports on revamping higher education to better fulfill workforce needs and strengthening sectors most likely to produce jobs. In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott's Blue Ribbon Task Force on Higher Education urged differentiated tuition making it more affordable for students to pursue in-demand careers. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Technology Council identified four strategies to help strengthen the state's technology-based economy — including passage of an early stage capital bill similar to one that stalled in the legislature last year. Both groups hope their recommendations will gain traction in the upcoming sessions.

Recommendations from the seven-member task force created by Gov. Scott earlier this year to assess progress and evaluate challenges in Florida's university system mirror many of the governor's own goals, particularly prioritizing STEM education and increasing the number of STEM graduates in the state.

The task force calls for a differentiated tuition model based on market-driven degree programs, where students would pay less if they pursue a degree in high-skill, high-wage fields most likely to help evolve the state's economy. To this end, the task force wants to freeze tuition for the next three years in those degree programs, which would be determined by the legislature. The report notes that the Board of Governors, the governing body of the university system, has previously identified undergraduate degree programs in strategic areas of emphasis, 111 of which are in STEM fields.

At the same time, universities that meet certain standards of excellence, or preeminent universities, should be allowed to increase tuition, the task force finds. The rationale being that research universities are national assets that attract outside funding and promote global competitiveness. Lawmakers passed a preeminent university bill (HB 7129) earlier this year with broad support in both chambers (see the May 2, 2012 issue of the Digest); however, that bill was vetoed by Gov. Scott, who has been very critical of raising tuition. The governor called on higher education leaders seeking tuition increases to first demonstrate ways they are saving money and to show that degree programs are tied to job growth.

Increased coordination of system-wide goals and state funding tied to performance metrics also are among the recommendations in the final report, which is available at: http://www.slideshare.net/FLHigherEd.

Aiming to renew public discussion about improving the state's tech-based economy, the Wisconsin Technology Council issued its 2012-2013 white papers intended to assist policymakers and initiate legislative action in the new session. Proposals fall under four priority areas: increasing access to capital for entrepreneurs, improving technology development, delivery and transfer, building the state's supply of human capital, and enhancing the startup and business climate.

The group advocates for a comprehensive, early stage capital program to help fill a gap that they say stalls young companies and kills the jobs they create. Gov. Scott Walker had proposed venture capital legislation last year that died amid disagreement on how the program would work. The governor recently asked the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to bring together financiers, trade officials and other industry leaders for a series of discussions in hopes of passing a similar bill in the near future, according to a Journal-Times article.

Amending the Act 255 tax credit program to provide incentives for out-of-state individuals, corporations and nonprofit investment funds also is an important goal for the council and essential for bringing fresh capital into the state.

Read The Future is Now: Four Strategies for Wisconsin's High-Growth Economy at: http://www.wisconsintechnologycouncil.com/uploads/PDFs/2012_whitepaper.pdf.

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