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Sen. Maria Sachs
member, Florida Senate
To Ensure Prosperity, Florida Must Invest in Higher Education

The current economic recession poses questions for Florida’s budget. Education has always been the best investment a government can make. In the past 20 years, however, we have seen a dramatic increase in the speed and size of the economic return on this investment.

In the areas of information and media technology, there is a wildly shrinking barrier to turning intelligent concepts into successful businesses. We as political leadership need to acknowledge that there is a similarly shrinking line between education and prosperity.

Today, universities are bearing economic fruit on a different time scale. In the arena of information technology, the merit of an idea has grown in importance as a factor relative to industry connections. The people most likely to create successful businesses in this industry are the ones most engrossed in fresh ideas and least tethered to existing personal or professional responsibilities: students. Google, Yahoo, and Facebook, arguably the three most important web companies, were not created by graduates or by politicians, but by the students of excellent university programs.

Stanford University is the premier example of an organization that has embraced the new young face of the tech economy. It interweaves academic work with entrepreneurial projects, directly connecting students, even at the undergraduate level, with businesses and venture capital firms. The financial rewards are startling: Stanford, having licensed 8,000 campus-inspired inventions, has reaped $1.3 billion in royalties. Five thousand companies have sprung from Stanford ideas, including HP, Yahoo, Google, Cisco, eBay, Netflix, LinkedIn, and E-trade. Florida needs to pursue the model pioneered by Stanford in Silicon Valley, where education is not a contributor to the economy – it is the economy.

Florida, instead of moving closer to the Stanford model, is moving farther away by cutting $300 million from our higher education budget. The effect on Florida’s stake in the tech economy has already been felt: the University of Florida, our state’s flagship research university, is responding to the budget cuts with plans to dismantle part of its computer science department. This is the same university where, only a few years ago, an undergraduate student created Grooveshark, a web music business that boasts 35 million users and 100 employees at its headquarters in Gainesville.  In addition, Florida Atlantic University has announced its Dania Beach SeaTech campus, a world-class facility and trailblazer in renewable energy research, will no longer receive state funding.

Despite political rhetoric about the importance of STEM, we in government must continue to fund higher education so that Florida will take its rightful position as one of the leaders in a global economy.  Florida must invest in higher education to set our state and country back on a path to prosperity and ensure that we continue to remain competitive in a global marketplace.

Sen. Maria Sachs represents parts of Palm Beach and Broward Counties.  She is Vice Chair of the Senate Military Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee and the Regulated Industries Committee. 

by Dr. Radut.