THE WRONG KIND OF CAPACITY. Discouraging news from Florida, via Phi Beta Cons.

Jolting the foundations of 11 Florida universities is a consultant's master plan looking ahead to 2030.

It suggests creating bachelor's degrees-only institutions - out of an existing university, community or private college or from the ground up - to counter Florida's low ranking of 43rd in the nation in adults ages 18 to 44 with four-year degrees.

As if further investment in access-assessment-remediation-retention is going to help Floridians or expand the share of knowledge workers in gross state product. But that appears to be exactly what this consultant has in mind.

For Florida State University, one potential fallout is the idea of limiting the number of expensive research universities supported by the state.

FSU is in the midst of striving to enhance its research reputation in order to be invited into the elite Association of American Universities. Yet if fewer research-level universities are funded, that sets FSU up for more competition with places such as University of Central Florida, University of South Florida and Florida Atlantic University, all trying to become research giants like University of Florida.

For Florida A&M University, there may be paranoia about a repeat of when former chancellor Adam Herbert tried to push FAMU to the bottom tier of universities. It may be defending itself against becoming only a bachelor's degree-granting institution, at a time when it wants to raise its research profile.

The report lists FAMU, where 87 percent of students are undergraduates, as one of six universities that "would be natural choices to form the foundation of the new state college system."

And the idea of basing state funding in part on a university's graduation rate could be tough for FAMU, with its six-year graduation rate of 42 percent. FSU's six-year graduation rate is 67.5 percent.

"We hold ourselves to a high standard, and we're going to be treated as all the universities in the state," Austin said of FAMU. "Whatever goals the board may have, we certainly will meet them, because we want to be the best."

What's that line about "he doesn't know the territory?" In an environment where there is excess demand for places at selective universities, which may well reflect a flight from perceived degree mills operating under access-assessment-remediation-retention principles, the creation of additional capacity that looks like a degree mill is unlikely to make good use of tax dollars, and the imposition of the responsibilities of a degree mill on faculty who aspire to more is unlikely to do much for their morale.

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