Senate's Higher Ed Overhaul Sails Through First Panel

Jan 23, 2017

A Senate plan for changes to the state’s public colleges and universities sailed smoothly through its first panel hearing Monday. Questions mostly centered on how schools could implement block tuition and use a four-year graduation rate as part of the state’s higher ed accountability system.

Block tuition means students pay a fixed price for a certain number of classes. But Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, wants to know whether it could backfire.

"Sound-You pay for 12 hours and it’s all you can eat, or will people have to pay for 15 hours and if they’re taking 12 they’re actually had a tuition increase?” He asked bill sponsor, Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

Galvano says he doesn't want to see that happen.

Some schools are concerned block tuition could hurt working, low-income students and those with families. The state would also have to use four-year graduation rate to measure schools, instead of the widely accepted six-year rate. Association of Florida Colleges Executive Director Michael Brawer worries the change could impact his schools. Community and state colleges serve high numbers of non-traditional students--those who are older, working or have families.

Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, worries about a similar impact to schools like Florida A&M University, which serve many first generation and low-income students who tend to take longer to graduate.

“With that in mind, my hope is that we don’t see those students begin to be shunned, because as we’ve indicated, failure to meet this requirement would impact the institution’s bottom line," says Thurston.

Florida's public colleges and universities can earn or lose additional state money based upon their performance. Graduation rates are one of the metrics by which they're judged.