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Topical Breezes
Following the Currents that Guide Florida's Future
Does raising tuition at state colleges and universities help the institutions or hurt Florida's competitiveness among states for businesses seeking educated workers?
Frank Bentayou
A Great Recession and a burst housing bubble crippled Florida’s economy, and the public sector has suffered as tax revenues tumbled. Do voters want smaller government, as some claim? Smaller government means less public support for higher education. Much less. In a knowledge economy, where better-educated citizens are the main path to prosperity, someone has to pay for a competitive, skilled workforce. In Florida, officials tell us students and their families must pick up the tab because the government is busy shrinking. Here’s a look at the ins and outs of today’s higher-ed conundrum.
Michael Long
Student Body President, New College of Florida; Chairman, Florida Student Association; Member, Florida Board of Governor

For the past five years, the State of Florida has reduced appropriations to the State University System by roughly 25 percent. The reductions have necessitated a 75 percent increase in tuition in that same five-year period. The University System was cut $300 million in the 2012 legislative session, and the state's higher education budget expects a 15 percent in-state tuition increase in addition to an 8 percent out-of-state tuition increase. 

To an extent, the Board of Governors doesn't really have a choice.

If we don't grant a tuition increase, universities will be forced to make cuts to academic programs, and as students, we will receive a lesser quality education than we did last year. 

If we do raise tuition, we acknowledge that it is okay to charge students more and give them less. We acknowledge that the rising cost of tuition is pricing families out of an education. We acknowledge that by continually cutting state support for education, we are creating a less-qualified workforce and moving backwards.

The argument in support of this pressure on universities is that a financial squeeze will promote cost-saving and force universities to spend only where they need to, leading to more efficiency in the system. 

I disagree with that principal and say that our universities have been cutting their budgets for the past five years, and there is no elasticity remaining. If we continue asking our universities to cut, cut, cut, we will cut the legs from beneath us and jeopardize the successful higher education system we have spent decades building.

Now to answer the specifics of Florida Voices’ question about how tuition relates to business development in the state: There is a clear gap between education and employment, especially in Florida. Thousands of graduates leave our state in search of jobs each year. As taxpayers, we are investing in their education, and we need to create opportunities to retain their knowledge to help improve our economy. More partnerships and  opportunities for communication and collaboration are needed between universities and businesses to determine how best to fill the gap.

In the short run, I believe that with a tuition increase we will see a decline in the university system’s overall enrollment growth as financial aid shrinks. Access to education for citizens in lower socioeconomic strata becomes a major challenge. We have to ensure that all students have the opportunity to receive an education, regardless of financial standing. Increasing tuition 75 percent over five years jeopardizes that equal opportunity for education. 

In the long run, I actually foresee a more positive outlook if tuition increases go into effect, but only if state operating appropriations increase or stay at their current level. The increases in tuition will then be utilized to better institutions. Instead of increasing tuition just to plug the hole, schools should use the extra revenue to recruit world-class faculty, build new facilities, offer more high-tech degree programs and increase the overall quality of education for every student. 

Pilar Mendoza
Assistant Professor, Higher Education Administration, College of Education, University of Florida

On March 27, 2012, Governor Scott proudly announced on his website that “MindTree Limited, a global IT and product engineering company, had selected Gainesville as the site for its United States expansion, bringing 400 new jobs over the next five years and making a $2.925 million capital investment in the heart of Gainesville.” The College of Engineering at the University of Florida was a key factor in MindTree’s decision after considering other locations in Alabama and South Carolina. Three weeks later, the dean of the College of Engineering announced the elimination of the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Department, a key feeder of MindTree, to absorb a 5 percent budget reduction caused by the $300 million cut to higher education.

If I were the CEO of MindTree, I would ask whether Alabama or South Carolina were better options. That would be a valid question considering that the state appropriation to the University of Florida has been cut by almost 30 percent since 2008. Unfortunately, revenue from tuition increases since 2008 have not made up for the cut in state appropriations. So, what hinders Florida's goal competing with other states for businesses seeking well educated workers is reduction in state appropriations to higher education rather than increasing tuition.

Academic institutions are being forced to find alternative sources of revenue and ways of operation to survive, and one of them is increasing tuition. Therefore, increasing tuition has become a necessity rather than a benefit. The mission of academic institution is hindered when the quality of the student experience deteriorates. Due to the rising costs of education and decline of  financial aid available in the form of grants, a larger proportion of high school graduates might not enroll in college.

And students who do enroll are acquiring large debt and working longer hours while enrolled, all at the expense of a quality education. These trends are detrimental for the individual, academic institutions and society at large. Student debt is forecasted by some to be the root of the next economic crisis. We already see younger generations spending less, deferring buying homes or even leaving college without degrees -- but with sizable debt.

If the state invests in education and at least stops the trend of cutting budgets, then there is no need to increase tuition. Higher education is a public good. But the prevalent ideology insists on seeing it as a private good. The result is the crumbling of our Kindergarten-grad school education system while banks and drugstores flourish. At this rate, we won’t have an educated citizenry to sustain our economies, not even banks and drugstores. 

Sarah Stuckey
Office of Citizen Services, Executive Office of the Governor

In December 2011, Governor Scott submitted his budget recommendations to
the Florida Legislature and, in the weeks after, the Legislature
developed a responsible and thoughtful budget plan for Fiscal Year
2012-13 that is balanced without raising taxes or fees, despite a $1.2
billion budget gap.

Governor Scott's top priority this legislative session was adding $1.06
billion in new funding for K-12 education. This appropriations bill,
with the increase in education funding, and paired with the 2012 Job
Creation and Economic Growth Agenda (House Bill 7023, House Bill 7027,
House Bill 7029, and House Bill 7089), puts Florida well on track for
being the best state in the nation to live, work and play. This bill
builds on the progress made last year to achieve Governor Scott's goals
of creating jobs, ensuring a good education system, and lowering the
cost of living.

The Governor closely scrutinized each line item in the General
Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2012-13. With every Florida family in
mind, each project in the bill was reviewed several times and Governor
Scott gave each project equal and fair consideration.

To view the General Appropriations Act, the veto list, and the
Governor's veto message, please visit http://www.flgov.com/budget/.

Frank T. Brogan
Chancellor, State University System of Florida

Florida's University System Chancellor Frank T. Brugan's office said he was too busy last week to provide a response to Florida Voices' question about tuition. But what follows is a sample of published comments about tuition increases Brogan has made over the last two and a half years.

Speaking of university operating budgets following six years of falling support for these institutions, Brogan told the Miami Herald earlier this year, “The alternative, without the additional student support, is grim.” And he added that raising the costs students and their families pay universities for enrollment has “ almost become a necessary evil when you see a continued decline in base funding from the state.”

In November of 2010 Brogan also told the Gainesville Sun that “most students understand the increased costs associated with higher education. No one likes the increased costs of higher education.”

And for cash-pinched students, he provided readers of the Palm Beach Post this forecast of the share students and their families will pay to go to college in years to come: “Costs will continue to escalate,”  he said. In fact, Brogan told the Post that tuition outlays could increase 15 percent a year for the next decade.

The operating budgets of colleges and universities must rise dramatically, he said in that interview, because Florida is "running out of seats in higher education, especially in the state university system,"

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by Dr. Radut.