Colleges, universities take first strides with regional initiatives
By Jaime Levy
Representatives for a group of South Florida colleges and universities are continuing a push to reap the benefits of acting as a single regional body.
The South Florida Higher Education Consortium - a group of public and private schools organized as part of an effort by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce - are trying to identify key issues to bring to the Florida Legislature next year.
Chamber leaders said they hope to include in the consortium 18 institutions from Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
"We feel like by working together and bringing business in, we're going to be able to accomplish a lot of things we couldn't have done before," said Bill Cullom, Greater Miami Chamber president and CEO. "The next step is for us to put down priorities from the standpoint of Tallahassee."
He said members of the group next will meet with leadership in the coming weeks, culminating in a Jan. 13 meeting to plan lobbying strategies.
Philip Blumberg, head of South Florida Initiatives, of which the consortium is a part, said funding equity could be a primary issue for the consortium to address.
"The state has very little new resources to commit. Under any circumstances, public education absorbs almost 67% of the state budget," he said. "There's no way the legislature or the governor is going to propose a higher number than that. The system needs to allocate money in a more equitable way."
Mr. Blumberg, also president and CEO of American Ventures Corp., added that regionalism and a business-education link could be other important topics.
Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin, president of Barry University and one of the nine school representatives who attended a consortium meeting last week, said she was a bit skeptical - but hopeful - of what they could accomplish.
Other schools represented were Broward Community College, Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University, Florida Memorial College, Miami-Dade Community College, Nova Southeastern University, Palm Beach Community College and the University of Miami.
"I don't know how successful the consortium will be, as such attempts have not been too successful in the past," she said. "Regionalism is difficult to achieve but one must keep trying. And that's what we will do."
Hodding Carter, president and CEO of the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation, which donated $400,000 to the chamber for the consortium, said he was more optimistic about the group's eventual success.
"The Knight Foundation helped fund them because we're interested in the specific question of higher education cooperation," Mr. Carter said. "We also wanted to help underwrite the first strategic approach to encouraging a regional view of common problems. It seemed higher education might be the one where people could fastest and best understand common interests."