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Everyone likes someone who gives out things for free, especially expensive things – like a college degree.

Of course, Gov. Charlie Crist isn’t promising a college education for free – it will still require a fair amount of money, time and plenty of work. But at the very least, Crist doesn’t want to make tuition for Florida public college students any more expensive – his 2007/08 budget calls for no increase whatsoever in tuition costs. The Florida Board of Governors’ requested 13 percent increase in university funding is not going to happen – Crist proposed a 3.5 percent increase in university funding, which is just enough to cover the costs of inflation.

In response to his somewhat drastic budget ideas for Florida’s university system, Crist told the Tallahassee Democrat, “I don’t want to raise tuition because I would like to maximize the ability of Floridians to have access to higher education. The proposal for no tuition increase provides an across-the-board savings for all students.”

Crist didn’t mention that it might also cause across-the-board mediocrity for Florida’s public universities. He was generous only in helping Florida’s universities afford an expected enrollment increase of more than 15,000 students. But even Crist’s budget for that – “fully funded” at $101 million – is still $49 million short of what the Florida Board of Governors wanted. Needless to say, there will be no room in the University budget for improvement on any of the innumerable problems requiring it. One hopes Crist at least read the Pappas report, because he certainly didn’t address it in his budget.

If money for universities doesn’t come from tuition, it has to come from somewhere. Although many universities, especially USF, are becoming more profit-oriented – a policy with its own set of drawbacks for students – that approach is still largely in its elementary phases. The university system in Florida is not in a position to make up the difference between what it needs and what Crist wants to give.

The governor’s stated methods are simply flawed. Given that Florida’s average in-state tuition rates are already the lowest in the nation – averaging a mere $3,326 – refusing to raise tuition doesn’t “maximize the ability of Floridians to have access to higher education.” It merely maintains the current cost, thereby maintaining the current level of access with one big detriment: the financial starvation of Florida’s university system.

With no plans to find money for universities from sources outside of the tuition he refuses to raise, Crist isn’t helping the university system or its students by refusing to raise tuition. He’s merely ensuring the future mediocrity of Florida’s universities.