Chamber Forum: Research partnerships can keep high-skill grads in Florida
UF was named a "New Ivie" by Forbes.

Gainesville, FL, USA - May 11, 2016: An entrance to the Universi
'We have tremendous resources in higher education here in the state, so tap into them.'

Florida universities are hitting new highs in research funding, but not because of private industry funding.

During a panel discussion at the Florida Chamber Foundation’s 2023 Future of Florida Forum, representatives from the state’s two most prestigious public universities touted some of the top-line figures.

University of Florida research funding jumped 15% to $1.25 billion last year. Florida State University topped $356 million. Both institutions are churning out graduates with high-demand degrees and their researchers are logging scores of patents.

And other state schools are on the rise, too — the University of Central Florida, University of South Florida and Florida International University each crossed $250 million in research expenditures during the fiscal year that ended on June 30.

But institutions in the State University System rely almost solely on government grant funding, whether from the feds or Florida.

UF Florida Institute for Cybersecurity Research Director Kevin Butler recounted the flagship’s rapid rise: “Last year was the first year we broke $1 billion dollars. It was $900 million the year before that.  …  So, really, this speaks to where Florida is in the nation as a whole. And it’s a really exciting place to be and from a research perspective. We’re firing on all cylinders, and we’re seeing just a huge upward trajectory throughout the state.”

The UF College of Engineering, where Butler is a professor, accounted for about $150 million of the 2022-23 research total. UF also ranked as the No. 1 public university for cybersecurity research funding from the National Science Foundation.

As successful as Florida universities are at landing government grants, they are lagging behind the bluebloods in private-sector funding.

“Comparing us to some of the big Midwestern Big 10 schools — Purdue, for example — their engineering department gets about $100 million from industry a year. We get less than $5 million,” Butler said.

Florida State University (FSU) Assistant VP of Academic Affairs Dr. Emily Pritchard noted the investments FSU has made in research facilities, such as the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, as well as the university’s expanding geographic footprint.

“We’re doing work all over North Florida, and we have at a campus in Panama City, we’re building new research infrastructure, particularly in manufacturing. Manufacturing is a place where we can lead and the universities are where we can train those future leaders,” she said.

Both Pritchard and Butler said business buy-in can help convince those future leaders to stay in Florida.

“We want them to be hired here. We want to keep talent here,” Pritchard said. “There’s so many more things (state universities and businesses) could be doing together and we can think very creatively about the ways that we can imagine new products and services here in Florida and globally.”

Butler noted that many SUS institution students “could be going to Stanford, Berkeley, or the Ivies” but chose to stay in-state “because they know the value of their education here and love staying in Florida.” Many recent grads would prefer to stay in Florida, too.

“We have this huge talent pool that’s ready and primed to be here for business. We have professors and others who are brimming with ideas,” he said.

Pritchard added, “We have tremendous resources in higher education here in the state, so tap into them.”

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.

One comment

  • PeterH

    October 24, 2023 at 5:11 pm

    Explain why highly intelligent and educated women would want to stay in Florida where she cannot receive necessary healthcare? Why would a family want to send their children to a Florida school where third graders cannon read, where educators are stymied and punished for preparing students to culturally assimilate into the 21st century?

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