Key to Economic Growth
By State Sen. Maria
Sachs, District 30
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 less 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 sprang 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, Florida. 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