BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s Board of Governors on Wednesday agreed on a path to create a 12th state university that will focus on strengthening science and technology education.

The board, which oversees Florida’s State University System, voted to approve a series of steps for the University of South Florida Polytechnic in Lakeland to become an independent institution.

The resolution passed Wednesday sets nine different criteria in order for USF Polytechnic to become independent.

The first is to achieve separate accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Once that is accomplished, the university has to develop programs in the STEM fields and enroll at least 1,244 students. Fifty percent of those students must be in STEM fields, and another 20 percent must be in STEM-related programs. The university also needs to construct a science and technology building, a wellness center and residence halls.

Other steps include establishing financial aid and other student services.

The board will monitor the university’s progress and do a final review once all conditions have been met. If conditions are met, the USF branch will become a separate university.

“All those benchmarks are very doable,” said state Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who has advocated for the branch to become an independent institution.

Alexander said he believes that could be accomplished within three to five years, though other officials said it could take as long as a decade.

The meeting took place at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton and was widely attended by USF students, community and policy leaders. About 25 students came wearing green T-shirts that said “United as One” to express their objection to the split. Over the course of four hours, the board heard presentations from USF President Judy Genshaft; Marshall Goodman, regional chancellor of USF Polytechnic; Alexander; and state Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, among others.

“With very few exceptions our students, our faculty, our alumni have expressed their strong, strong interest and desire to keep the USF system intact,” Genshaft said. “This is not the right time either economically, educationally or practically for a drastic change to the USF system.”

Gaetz and other proponents of the split argued that Florida needs to take swift action in producing more graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). He said that in the next 10 years, 60 percent of the jobs growth in Florida will require these skills.

Today, he added, there are 35,000 STEM jobs advertised by Florida business that are unfilled because the state isn’t producing enough qualified workers in these areas.

“A polytechnical university is part of the answer, and I would argue it’s an important and integral part,” Gaetz said.

Several board members expressed opposition to the plan, worried about how much it will cost. Gov. John Temple questioned the accuracy of expense projections included in the business development plan, and noted the state doesn’t even have money to pay for current university maintenance and construction.

“I have no confidence in the materials that have been given,” Temple said.

Two other board members also voted against setting a path for the USF Polytechnic split. Gov. Patricia Frost said she was troubled by the fact the large majority of faculty and students are against separating from the University of South Florida. Gov. Michael Long, chairman of the Florida Student Association, said current and future students of the polytechnic school want to be associated with an established institution like the University of South Florida. He said he worried the value of their degrees would decline under a different name.

“Every student senate has passed a resolution opposing separation,” Long said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.


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