When it comes to higher education, little was accomplished at the governor’s mansion this week. Granted, Gov. Charlie Crist hosted a meeting Tuesday with student leaders from Florida’s State University System (SUS), a mark of engagement with his collegiate constituents.
Crist’s non-committal attitude toward tuition increases, however, made the event little more than a photo-op for the self-proclaimed “people’s governor.”
There is one thing this “Tallahassee Tuesday” did accomplish, though: It proved that Crist’s definition of ‘people’ doesn’t include SUS students.
After all, the SUS is bracing for a 10 percent baseline budget cut due to a tax revenue shortfall in the state of Florida. Because SUS administrators won’t know the exact extent of the cuts until later this month, they pre-emptively put a cap on freshman enrollment for next semester, instituted a hiring freeze and cut classes.
A 5 percent tuition increase, like the one the Board of Governors (BOG) voted for this spring, probably couldn’t provide enough additional revenue to fix all of these problems, but would have certainly helped address some of these
The problem is that Crist vetoed the increase, and even though the BOG reacted to his veto with a lawsuit – basically to affirm its right to govern the SUS and pass things like tuition increases – money from an increase isn’t going to provide the much-needed boost anytime soon.
According to the Associated Press, “about half” of the students at “Tallahassee Tuesday” raised their hands in support of an increase.
Crist’s reaction was that it was “more hands than (he) expected.” Still, his response to the idea of a tuition increase was rather “expected,” in the sense that it falls into line with his ill-wrought stance.
It is a stance that, by and large, fails to represent students. USF student body president Barclay Harless is quoted by AP as saying students would tolerate an increase, so long as they knew it would be used to better their education.
“The majority of students I’ve talked to feel that earmarked tuition, tuition where they know it’s going, is much better,” he said.
University of Central Florida’s vice president, Logan Berkowitz, pointed out that students could actually incur financial savings as a result of a tuition increase.
As it now stands, he explained, students “often have to go an extra semester or two because of limited class offerings.”
Symptoms of an under-funded SUS – like delayed graduation and insufficient facilities – are unacceptable. Crist cannot live up to his moniker as a “people’s governor” if his refusal to up tuition hurts so many of the people he governs.