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Survey cites issues in state’s education system

TAMPA, Fla. -- With concerns about the state of Florida’s educational system on the rise, Floridians pinpointed areas that the state needs to address as it creates educational policy, according to the annual Sunshine State Survey administered by the University of South Florida School of Public Affairs.

Respondents rated the overall success of the state’s educational system in preparing students for today’s complex global economy. The majority (86 percent) rated the state’s performance as “moderately successful” (55 percent) or “not very successful” (31 percent). Only 9 percent said the state is “very successful” at preparing students for today’s complex global economy.

“It certainly is a wake-up call for educators, the state and policy makers,” said Susan MacManus, Ph.D., survey director and distinguished university professor of the College of Arts and Sciences at USF.

The survey asked respondents to cite what should be the top priority of local school systems, and 33 percent said it is important to increase teacher pay to attract and retain the best teachers. More accountability and better management of financial resources (16 percent); improve discipline in the classroom (14 percent); raise standards to improve test scores (12 percent) and reduce class size (11 percent) rounded out the top five priorities among respondents.

A new question added to the 2014 survey addressed safety in public schools. More than half of the respondents (60 percent) gave local public schools a “good” or “excellent” rating. However, better safety in schools and on busses is an increasing priority among respondents (8 percent).

The survey looked at key issues in higher education, including what is perceived as the most serious situation for today’s college and university graduates. Thirty-five percent indicated a lack of well-paying jobs in graduates’ field as the top concern, followed by the debt incurred while in school (28 percent) and graduating without job skills required by employers (18 percent).

“The responses should be interesting to every sector in the state of Florida,” MacManus said. “This is the question that has needed to be asked for quite some time. The bottom line is almost two-thirds cite well-paying jobs or debt as the most serious situation.”

Two heavily debated issues in higher education--Bright Futures funding and tuition rates--were addressed in this year’s survey and will be of interest to many parents and policy makers.

MacManus said there is a real split on how people feel the Bright Futures money should be distributed. More than half of the respondents (52 percent) said financial need should be strongly considered along with academic achievement, while 45 percent said Bright Futures scholarships should be based strictly on academic achievement.

Respondents weighed in on tuition rates for the state’s university system, and 57 percent said tuition is either “a little too high” (32 percent) or “much too high” (26 percent). Nearly 30 percent see tuition rates as “about right,” an increase of 5 percent since 2012.

The survey asked respondents to rate the state’s provision of good higher education. MacManus said there is not a huge agreement on quality among those surveyed.

More than 53 percent of respondents think the state is doing either an “excellent” (12 percent) or “good” (41 percent) job of providing good higher education, an increase from 49 percent in 2012. However, 44 percent judge the state’s provision more negatively with 31 percent giving a “fair” rating and another 13 percent giving a “poor” rating.

Other key findings included the disparity between the overall quality ratings of local public schools and higher education in the state of Florida. Regarding the overall quality of higher education, 71 percent of respondents gave a “good” or “excellent” rating, compared to local public schools with 48 percent giving either a “good” or “excellent” rating.

The Data Release 3 Report, including crosstabs, can be found at

MacManus will hold another teleconference for members of the media on Tuesday, Sept. 30 at 10 a.m. to release survey results that focus on crime and environmental issues. A media advisory with more information will be sent on Monday, Sept. 29.

The Sunshine State Survey is the most anticipated annual survey of Floridians on a wide range of issues affecting the state of Florida and serves as our state leaders’ report card. Conducted by the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Florida and Nielsen, this survey has become a critical source of citizen opinions on key issues facing this rapidly changing state--soon to be the nation's third largest. The series of questions asked annually since 2006 provides leaders and academics in the public, private and nonprofit sectors with much-needed trend line data, while questions on newly-emerging issues give leaders an invaluable baseline look at where a wide cross-section of our state's residents stand on them.


Filed under:Arts and Sciences School of Public Affairs