Crist’s approach to tuition leads to downsizing

Cracks are beginning to show as Gov. Charlie Crist’s policy of vetoing tuition increases begins to have the opposite of his intended effect.

Crist has maintained a position adamantly opposed to tuition increases throughout his time as governor, leading to his recent veto of a 5 percent statewide tuition hike. According to an article in Saturday’s St. Petersburg Times, Crist said his veto reflects his commitment to ensure families affordable college degrees. State universities, however, feeling the financial crunch of Crist’s efforts, are beginning to be less, not more, accessible to degree-seekers.

Florida State University, the state’s fourth-largest university, will be freezing enrollment for the fall semester. In addition, its library and computer labs will reduce hours, faculty will have to cover growing course loads and maintenance and repair efforts will be delayed. FSU president T.K. Wetherell said in the Times’ article that these measures are unfortunate but necessary. “You can’t keep taking more students and getting less money, and provide the students with the quality education the students want.”

The enrollment freeze at FSU will result in the rejection of approximately 1,800 aspiring students and sets a precedent likely to be followed by fellow universities. USF Vice Provost Ralph Wilcox said that an enrollment freeze is “on the table,” and University of Florida president Bernie Machen said in Saturday’s Gainesville Sun that specific cost-cutting measures at UF had not been decided on, but an announcement would be made within a few weeks.

But at least Crist’s policy will keep things affordable for the students who are accepted to universities this year. Of course, the meager $55 per semester the 5 percent hike would have demanded would have garnered $19 million for universities statewide – enough to hire nearly 200 additional professors or 380 additional academic advisors and police officers, according to the Times.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Friday that Crist wants any increased spending for higher education to come directly from state dollars, not tuition. This seems to be a rather empty wish, especially considering the property tax reform legislators passed on Thursday, which is expected to result in a $7.1 billion decrease in education funding over the next five years.

If Crist has some magical pot of gold from which he intends to fund our universities, it is past time he dipped into it. If not, it is time for him to recognize his tuition policy for what it is: short-sighted and unrealistic political posturing.