Re: “University system needs to be financially solvent,” by Aaron Hill, Jan. 15.
Prosperity should be the unifying topic in state politics, and future economic prosperity is directly related to higher education.
Floridians have recognized the role universities play as economic engines (hence the emphasis on research in the state university system), but they do not fully understand the role the institutions play as long-term economic incubators (hence less emphasis on education). Paying millions of dollars to attract research groups, such as the Scripps Institute, produces gains, but these gains will disappear as quickly as they come if the state’s population is not conducive to an innovative working climate. The “creative industries” – what Richard Florida has termed industries rooted in the creation of new ideas and information – succeed in a workforce that is talented, tolerant and technologically savvy. Consider the North Carolina “Research Triangle,” which resides in a thriving university system: the number of patents in a region can easily be correlated with its level of education. Patents produce money, jobs, economic impact and tax-base for the state. Thus, education is the key to long-term prosperity.
This prosperity is threatened by population growth that is outpacing the growth of our universities and their capacity to provide access to education. Moreover, the fastest growing part of the population is also the poorest. While Florida has the lowest tuition in the United States, it still costs the poorest 40 percent of Floridians approximately 40 percent of their annual family income to send a child to college – and that’s after adjusting for the average amount of financial aid received. This state must recognize that affordability is unrelated to the sticker price of tuition: it is measured by the poorest in a society’s capacity to pay. If Floridians don’t help educate this rapidly growing population with increased need-based financial aid options as the report suggests, we will preclude future prosperity.
This prosperity should trump political differences regarding need-based financial aid. The words “Democrat,” “Republican,” “liberal” and “conservative” should be relegated toward securing Florida’s economic future. Floridians must make a pragmatic paradigm shift and financially support education for poor. They must recognize that they will either pay for it now or pay for it later, and must unite behind this notion if to see the substantive change Needed for our future.
Frank Harrison is a senior majoring in history and is student body president.