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June 20, 2012 5:31 PM Keeping Tuition Low in Florida

By Daniel Luzer

Florida governor Rick Scott vows to keep tuition at state universities low. He says it’s the best way to preserve quality education in the state and keep colleges spending responsibly. He’s had a lot of bad ideas, but he might be right about this one.

According to an article by Nathan Crabbe in the Gainesville Sun:

Scott told the Florida Board of Governors that state universities have made an “unbelievable increase” in tuition in recent years. He noted that Florida ranked 45th in the United States this year in average tuition and fees but challenged officials to keep those costs among the lowest in the nation. “I’d like to be No. 1 in affordability,” Scott said.
The board votes Thursday on university tuition increases. UF is seeking a 9 percent increase, while all but two other universities are pursuing the maximum 15 percent increase allowed under state law. The proposals come as the state has slashed university funding by $300 million in the coming fiscal year.

The average annual tuition at Florida state universities is $5,600. The national average for public universities is about $8,200 a year.

This is not the first time Scott has given controversial advice to state colleges. Back in October he tried to cut state funding for liberal arts programs, arguing that “we don’t need a lot more anthropologists in the state.”

Last July he argued that it was time to reform tenure in state universities, giving more weight to student evaluations. “Students ought to be measuring the effectiveness of our professors,” Scott said, “because ultimately, it is the family’s money paying for this.”

Students and professors argued against both of these proposals, which seemed vaguely based on models for how corporations function, and had little to do with successful higher education. Third time’s a charm, I guess.

Colleges aren’t exactly happy with the governor’s latest proposal, of course. They argue they have to increase tuition due to state budget cuts. “If you’re against the tuition hikes, you wouldn’t have cut $300 million,” said Jordan Allen, a University of Central Florida student.

Scott said the colleges could still operate without tuition hikes. Crabbe:

Scott defended the cut… saying universities would be able to use reserves to cover it. But UF officials have said university reserves are largely dedicated to other purposes and are slashing $36.8 million from the budget. The planned cuts include staff layoffs and the closure of two branch libraries.

It’s hard, but it’s probably still possible. I’ve argued before the Florida model, where universities are limited in the amount they can raise tuition, basically works for students.

It’s hard for colleges to operate when the state cuts the budget and the school can’t increase tuition as much as it would like, and the universities fight it, but at least students don’t have to pay directly for Florida’s policy problems. A predictable funding stream from the state would probably be the best option here, but the current funding structure is at least functional (in contrast to, say, California, where higher education is both overpriced and in decline).

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, there’s no indication that Florida universities are any worse than those public institutions of other states that have power to raise tuition at will.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

Comments

  • boatboy_srq on June 21, 2012 10:26 AM:

    [I]tís the best way to perverse quality education in the state and keep colleges spending responsibly.

    "Perversing" quality education sounds appropriate, not only for Governor Voldemort, but for education in Florida generally. Scott is just leveraging a statewide unwillingness to pay for them young whippersnappers' eddycayshun; starving the state university system is feature not bug. As long as the next generation knows enough English to mouth the Wingnut soundbites, and enough other skills to fix the elections, cook the books and mow the lawns, the education system has done its duty and anything more will get taught on the jobsite.