House Speaker Will Weatherford is vowing to change Florida’s public higher education system. In a forum sponsored by the Orlando Sentinel Tuesday, the House Speaker says the state’s higher education system can’t continue on the same path its on now.
Weatherford promised changes in how Florida’s public universities do business. He spoke about the need to keep tuition rates low, but also pushed for letting some of the universities, such as the University of Florida and Florida State University, break free of the state’s tuition caps:
“Tuition should be cheap if you’re going to a state or community college. It should be cheap if you’re going to a non-research based institution. But it should not be cheap if you’re going to a research university in the state of Florida. There’s a difference.”
Those words echo a proposal launched last year that would have established those schools as “pre-eminent” universities, recognizing their capacity for bringing in research money. The concept of pre-eminence has also emerged as a major policy point established by a task force created by Governor Rick Scott to look at higher education reform.
But Weatherford didn’t stop there. He also promised to restore the $300 million lawmakers cut from university reserve accounts:
“I thought it was wrong, I thought it was at the last minute. I thought that we punished the people who saved the money. If it was a business out there, we’d want them to have reserves, and we took it and I didn’t think that was right. But we did it, and it’s over now," Weatherford said to chuckles from the audience.
"The legislature’s going to restore that money this year. You’ll see in our budget that $300 million will be restored.”
Weatherford says he hopes the state will be able to add even more money to higher education. Meanwhile, the Speaker is also pushing for more online degree programs along with creating a performance-based funding structure for schools.
For more news updates, follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter @HatterLynn