When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law Monday banning the state’s public colleges and universities from allocating funds to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs, he sent a resounding message to not just his constituents, but to the nation writ large.
Simply put, DeSantis is focused on fueling culture wars that rally his base—a necessary move as he increasingly becomes more interested in running for president than serving as governor—even if that hurts Florida’s standing as a beacon for economic freedom and prosperity, two things in which DeSantis takes pride.
He and his army of advisers and right-wing media allies have spun the move as a way to stand against discrimination—twisting the narrative surrounding his anti-DEI push as one that’s actually supporting diversity and equality by eliminating unfair concessions to those deemed undeserving.
But make no mistake, in signing SB 266 into law DeSantis has gone counter to many things he claims to stand for.
It starts with brain drain.
If colleges and universities are, as DeSantis describes them, hotbeds of student indoctrination rife with woke curricula and leftist academics, on what planet will said woke army stick around at institutions that no longer support diversity, equity, and inclusion? And who would be crazy enough to assume these bastions of liberal indoctrination will be OK with being told what curricula they can and cannot teach?
The answers are easy: Very few. Certainly not enough to maintain the high bar of academic excellence attained at the school’s booming institutes of higher education.
Faculty members at Florida State University, one of the top schools in the state, have already announced departures, and others are rethinking their decision to teach in Florida, according to WUSF.
The Florida Bulldog, a nonprofit investigative journalism outlet in South Florida, wrote about an “exodus of faculty members” and other “out-of-state professors looking for new jobs” passing on opportunities in the Sunshine State.
Both outlets spoke with Matthew Latta, an FSU music professor who spoke about conversations he’s had with colleagues.
One of my sources in the Tampa Bay area mentioned knowing two University of South Florida professors mulling job offers out of state, precisely because of what they perceive as attacks on higher education from Florida politicians.
And it’s affecting students.
An intelligent.com survey in March found that 91 percent of prospective college students and 79 percent of current college students disagree with Gov. DeSantis’ policies. Just as bad, one in eight graduating high school students say they won’t attend a public college because of DeSantis’ education policies and one in 20 current state college students are planning to transfer.
The Oxford definition of “brain drain” is “the emigration of highly trained or intelligent people from a particular country.”
Florida is not its own country, but if it were a sovereign nation, its economy would rank as the 16th largest in the world.
The impacts of that brain drain could spell a major hit to Florida’s economy.
Take a look at North Carolina circa 2016. When the state passed a controversial bathroom bill dictating which bathrooms transgender people could and could not use, it cost the state $3.76 billion as a result of business shirking the state over about a dozen years, according to a CNBC analysis.
PayPal canceled plans to add a facility in the state; Ringo Starr canceled a concert; Deutsche Bank canceled its move to the Raleigh area; and Adidas decided to open a factory in Atlanta instead of North Carolina.
Those decisions were based, in great part, on the message it sent to customers about company commitments to diversity and inclusion. It doesn’t even factor the effects of brain drain.
So not only is DeSantis and his lackey legislature giving the finger to both, they’re actively imposing policy that will scuttle the necessary talent pipeline businesses need to thrive.
“This would be a good opportunity to talk about unintended consequences. But that would assume these consequences are indeed unintended.”
The effects can get even more micro.
Florida colleges and universities have been enjoying consistent boosts in college rankings. The University of Florida is now ranked in the top five in the U.S. News and World Report’s Top Public Schools. FSU is at No. 19. If faculty are fleeing and prospective students are opting for (more expensive) out-of-state schools, what’s going to happen to those rankings, which schools have been working for decades to climb?
And what about school’s like the University of South Florida, where attention to DEI has specifically improved four- and six-year graduation rates among low-income students who tend to be from minority communities? In 2018, USF was named one of the top public universities serving students receiving Pell Grants (federal financial aid for low-income students.) The graduation rate among those students was 68 percent, 19 percentage points higher than the national average at that point.
An analysis shows USF experienced a 6-point drop from 2017 to 2020 in the number of enrolled undergrads with low incomes, one of the steepest declines among the state’s public colleges and universities.
That drop came despite robust DEI efforts at the school.
And those efforts aren’t just about recruitment, they’re also about personalizing education for at-risk students to help them be successful in their higher education journey.
Without that access, individuals from low-income or marginalized communities that typically experience higher rates of poverty and lower rates of educational attainment are likely to continue to suffer as the state not only pauses gains, but potentially reverses them.
This would be a good opportunity to talk about unintended consequences. But that would assume these consequences are indeed unintended. So far, DeSantis has given no reason to believe his higher education policies are anything less than reshaping education to align with his political ideology, promote his party’s priorities and stifle any “woke” progress that may be bred on Florida campuses.
If you agree with him on those three fronts, nothing else I’ve written even matters. But if you care about Florida’s economy, its entrepreneurs and its ability to provide quality education to support both, you’ll pay attention and maybe speak up.
Peter Schorsch is the publisher of FloridaPolitics.com.