Gov's higher ed task force considers higher tuition options

Jun 25, 2012

A panel convened by the Governor met Monday to continue talks on higher education accountability and funding. The group’s meeting follows decisions last week on tuition increases for the state’s public universities.

Florida State University President Eric Barron told the governor’s panel that the state’s tuition policies aren’t based on market expectations. He argues the state is keeping tuition artificially low, and as a result, the university system is suffering for it.

 “It’s good business to be priced below the market. And if we were priced below the market, and if we were priced below the market on out-of-state tuition, we’d be an incredible draw. But its not such a great advantage to be inexpensive, and not be able to deliver quality.”   

Part of the panel’s conversation is finding a way to strike a balance between raising tuition to help fund the schools, and how to steer more students into programs where there are more opportunities for jobs.

“We’ve taken some accountability and responsibility away from students and families. By keeping it as low as it is. And I’m not saying I want to be as high as everyone else. I’m saying somewhere along the way, they need to have some skin in the game. They start a course, they drop a course, they start a course—for $642, that’s a deal," said State Representative Marlene O’ Toole, one of the panel's member. She said the state should try to push students into those programs by changing the way it funds them:

The average cost of tuition in Florida is about $5500 a year—the 45th lowest in the nation. Florida State University President Eric Barron says his average student is only paying $640 dollars of that cost out-of-pocket. That’s compared to a national tuition average of about $8,200 dollars a year.

But Governor Rick Scott said, "we have to be number one in affordability, number one in making sure our students  are able to get  jobs in their fields of study, we have to be number one in STEM degrees, and we have to do the right thing for taxpayers, because taxpayers are spending quite a bit of money on this.” 

In order to recruit the best faculty, you have to pay for them. Certain programs, like science, technology, engineering and math also cost more to run. Most of those programs are subsidized by liberal arts programs- which attract a larger number of students, and, have also been targeted for closure as universities deal with budget cuts. University of North Florida President John Delaney represents the state university system on the panel.

“We’re only after those programs we’ve found are a necessitative need in our community at large.  Let’s state that. What do we want? What would we like to have? It would be nice to know if we’re willing to spend on it, but let’s state what would we like to have?”  

Delany says the state and the schools should outline what their priorities are and then decide how to fund it. University officials say many of Governor Scott’s goals for higher education conflict with one another.

The Governor’s higher education panel will continue to meet throughout the summer and into the fall. It’s expected to deliver its recommendations to the governor and legislature later in the year.