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Saturday, Oct 25, 2014
Education

Business career guides state university system chancellor

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TAMPA — After a 33-year career in business, it may come as no surprise that new state university system Chancellor Marshall Criser vows to work with university leaders toward a new era of accountability, competition and performance-based rewards to higher education in Florida.

“Our elected leaders have challenged us to demonstrate how important the investment in higher education is,” Criser said Tuesday. “I expect the state university system to respond to that challenge. That’s a priority and imperative that I have.”

Criser, 55, is the former head of AT&T Florida, where he spent his entire business career. One of the state’s best-known business leaders, he also serves on the boards of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Council of 100 and Enterprise Florida.

His business bona fides impressed the state university system’s Board of Governors enough to get him unanimously elected to the position in November, and will undoubtedly help him in dealings with the run-it-like-a-business Florida Legislature, which controls the system’s purse strings and has been known to set policy.

Criser served on the system’s Commission on Higher Education Access and Educational Attainment, which studied gaps between degree production and job demand in Florida.

That panel established “the relevance of higher education to meeting Florida’s workforce needs,” Criser said. “We have a responsibility to demonstrate that we’ve got our eye on the ball and we’re thinking about that.”

The new chancellor met with the Tribune editorial board Tuesday as part of a series of meet-and-greets across the state.

Criser’s push toward accountability in higher education could be good news for the University of South Florida, which came out a big winner when the state doled out its first performance-based funds in September. USF was awarded $2.6 million from a $20 million pot split among the state’s 11 active public universities, tying the University of Central Florida as the top earner.

Performance-based funding will be based on key metrics, Criser said. Among them are how well universities do at providing access to a broad group of students; how well they do at retaining students; how many they graduate; and whether graduates are landing jobs in their fields.

The university system is requesting $50 million this year for performance funding, and Criser said the program would be expanded.

“I don’t think that’s high enough yet. But I also don’t believe you have to move everything to performance funding to affect behavior,” he said.

Also on his radar is steering students into high-demand fields such as the so-called STEM fields, or science, technology, engineering and math. This could be accomplished through tinkering with tuition formulas or by targeting financial aid, he said.

Yet Criser said he has “a sensitivity, but not necessarily a concern” about turning state schools into STEM factories.

Criser succeeds Frank Brogan, who left for a similar position in Pennsylvania. Brogan’s background as a school administrator, district superintendent and university president stands in stark contrast to Criser’s business background.

Criser’s father, however, served as president of the University of Florida — the school that graduated Criser and three of his daughters. The new chancellor has been authorized a salary of $357,000.

jstockfisch@tampatrib.com

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