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Florida's higher education system ranks best in the nation

A 2019 ranking of all 50 states' education systems shows the Sunshine State serves its college students well.

  • Florida may be the butt of many jokes, but its higher education system is second to none.
  • However, the state's PreK-12 education lacks comparatively, giving Massachusetts the top spot for the best education overall.
  • Americans believe their state governments should prioritize education, but much work needs to be done to catch up to other countries.

Let's face it, the other 49 states aren't always kind to Florida. We roll our eyes at how the state horked a national election, made mothers terrified of bath salts, and plays host to python sex parties. We laugh when its citizens threaten each other with turtle armies or a major newspaper endorses a Florida congressional candidate who believes she was abducted by aliens (#onlyinflorida).

Comedian John Oliver summed up how other states feel about their southern kin best when he said: "I mean come on, Florida. You're Florida!"

But the Sunshine State deserves more respect in the eyes of the other states. According to the U.S. News & World Report's 2019 Best States ranking, Florida has the best higher education system in the nation and one of the best education systems overall.

Florida #1 in higher education

Florida State University is ranked number 70 among the U.S.'s 100 best colleges, one of three top ranking higher education schools in Florida.

(Photo: Jackson Myers/Flickr)

The U.S. News & World Report's annual ranking compares states based on eight key categories: education, health care, the economy, infrastructure, opportunity, fiscal stability, crime and corrections, and natural environment. State rankings are based on how they perform in predetermined metrics, with scores weighted on citizen priorities as determined by a survey.

Metrics for the higher education rank included the number of citizens holding degrees, costs of attending college, student debt burden, and time it takes to complete a two- or four-year program.

As reported by the Tampa Bay Times, "the state recently announced a 9.5 percent increase in its college graduation rate over the last five years." It has decreased the cost of pursuing a bachelor's degree, too, reducing it to less than $10,000 after financial aid for the average student.

Under these standards, Florida has set a high bar. It beat out Washington, Wyoming, and California (which took second, third, and fourth respectively). This is the third year in a row Florida has taken the top spot, and the state sports three of the country's 100 best colleges.

"It is no surprise that U.S. News & World Report has again named Florida the top state in the nation for higher education," Governor Ron DeSantis said in a news release. "Our state colleges and universities have prioritized affordability and pathways for career and life and, as a result, they are transforming our state. I look forward to celebrating continued success as we build on this positive momentum."

Ranking the nation's education systems

However, Florida's sterling score did not carry over to PreK-12 education. It lingered in the middle of the pack, coming in at 27. Instead, Massachusetts ranked number one in primary and secondary education. These results were based on metrics such as preschool enrollment, SAT and ACT scores, standardized test scores in math and reading, and high school graduation rate.

To determine which state had the best overall education system, U.S. News & World Report then combined state scores for PreK-12 and higher education (weighing each as 50/50). In order, the top ten are:

  1. Massachusetts
  2. New Jersey
  3. Florida
  4. Washington
  5. New Hampshire
  6. Nebraska
  7. Virginia
  8. Vermont
  9. Iowa
  10. Utah

Of the 10 states with the best overall education, seven appeared on U.S. News & World Report's best states list. Florida ranked 13th.

You can read U.S. News & World Report's methodology here.

Still room to improve

To weigh its index score, U.S. News & World Report's surveyed more than 50,000 Americans over three years. The survey asked residents in each state how they felt their governments handled key categories and where they wanted resources to be focused. The respondents had to rank each category — 1 being the most important, 8 the least.

Americans felt strongly that state governments should make education a priority (15.8 percent). Only health care received more support and just barely (16 percent). Other categories such as natural environment (8.4 percent), crime and corrections (9.9 percent), and infrastructure (12.9 percent) received less enthusiasm.

Increased public support has likely played a part in advancing the nation's educational systems. The national high school graduation rate is 85 percent, the highest it has ever been. Millennials have become the most education generation, earning more bachelor's degrees than Gen X or the baby boomers.

But there's still room for improvement. Graduation rates for whites, Asians, and Pacific Islanders continues to outdo rates for blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans. School funding remains tied to local property taxes, meaning schools in poor districts that need money are unlikely to get it. Higher education can be prohibitively expensive. And education is still not a right in the United States, unlike other democracies.

States like Florida and Massachusetts can serve as examples to help each state develop a more productive and charitable education system. They can keep the python sex parties, though.

Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

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  • Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
  • As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
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Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

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Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

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Our ‘little brain’ turns out to be pretty big

The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.

Image source: Sereno, et al
Mind & Brain
  • A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
  • The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
  • This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.

Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

A neural crêpe

A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.

So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.

The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."

Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum

Image source: Sereno, et al.

A complicated map

Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."

That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.

It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."

This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."

Bigger and bigger

The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.

"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."

As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."

Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."

Economists show how welfare programs can turn a "profit"

What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?

A homeless man faces Wall Street

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
  • It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
  • The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
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