Gov. Rick Scott relishes the chance to compete with other states whether it's about jobs, taxes or higher education. During his 2014 reelection campaign, he promised to give Florida competitive edge over other states by achieving "the first top 10 research public university and a second ranked public university in the top 25."
As Scott holds a "Degrees to Jobs" higher education summit in Orlando May 24-26, we sought to check on his progress.
The University of Florida and Florida State University both have publicly stated goals to be ranked in the Top 10 and Top 25, respectively, in U.S. News and World Report, said Brittany Davis, a spokeswoman for the State University System of Florida Board of Governors.
In its 2016 rankings of public universities, the report ranked the University of Florida tied in 14th place with Pennsylvania State University. FSU was ranked 43rd -- a tie with University of Alabama.
In an effort to boost the standing of the universities, Scott earlier this year signed into law $30 million earmarked for "preeminent universities" and "emerging preeminent universities" and $500 million for performance funding -- $225 million from the state and $275 million from the universities.
The money can be used to hire faculty, research, grow programs in certain fields and to ensure students graduate on time and are prepared to enter the workforce. Those are factors that U.S. News and World Report takes into consideration in its rankings, Davis said.
We asked some higher education experts about whether Scott's goal is realistic.
"Our rankings are relatively stable from year to year," Robert Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News told PolitiFact Florida. "It is generally unusual to see a school move drastically over a two or three year period."
An elevated ranking for UF is not impossible, said John Thelin, professor at the University of Kentucky, and author of A History of American Higher Education.
"But who in the list ahead of it is going to go down?" he said. Other universities ahead of Florida include prestigious schools such as the University of California campuses and the flagship universities in Virginia, North Carolina and Wisconsin.
"Raising FSU up the ladder probably is a tougher task," Thelin said.
There are multiple other rankings in addition to U.S. News and World Report that focus on various aspects such as affordability, career services or best for Latinos. For example, Forbes rated UF No. 3 for best value and Kiplinger ranked FSU No. 16 among public universities in its 2016 Best College Values (for in-state students).
Some experts we interviewed suggested we also examine additional rankings particular to UF since Scott said he wanted a "top 10 research public university."
The National Science Foundation ranks universities on research and development expenditures. If we remove the private universities from the list, UF would rank about 18th.
Roger Geiger, a professor of higher education at Penn State, said Scott has set an important goal to raise the quality of Florida's universities.
"This is all too rare among state governments, and yet it is vital if public universities are to keep up with a highly competitive system of global universities," Geiger said. "Unfortunately, he seems fixated on rankings rather than quality per se. It might take disasters in several states, particularly California, for UF to reach the top 10. It would certainly be better if the governor could set some reasonable qualitative goals, not relative ones."
Since the rankings change little from year to year, it may be a longshot for UF and FSU to climb significantly in the rankings before Scott leaves office in January 2019. We will check in again on his progress before he leaves office. But he has taken some steps with funding toward his goal.
We rate this promise In the Works.