STEM tuition rate unlikely to change

Though talks of incentivizing science, technology,engineering and mathematics (STEM) education with lower tuition seem to be off the table, raising the costs of STEM education is also unlikely.

When the Florida House of Representatives released aproposed budget last week, which showed state universitytuition increasing at an8 percent base rate, there was no mention of STEM tuition differing from other tuition rates.

Despite initial suggestions from prominent state leaders to increase or lower tuition in STEM-related fields, USF Director of Governmental Affairs Mark Walsh said STEM tuition will most likely stay at a status quo rate.

Walsh said the concerns brought up on both sides are likely moot points, as the Legislature has its hands tied with other issues such asredistricting.

“I’d be surprised if anything was enacted this year,” he said. “A lot of the other issues have kind of taken a back seat at this point.”

At the December Board of Governor’s meeting,university leadersbrainstormed ways to promote Gov. Rick Scott’s job-creatinginitiatives by producing more STEM degrees. Among the suggestions was lowering the tuition of STEM degrees,something USF Provost Ralph Wilcox said USF would be open to looking into.

Over the past year, Scott has emphasized STEM educationas the future by which Florida’s economy will develop,requesting volumes of data from state university officials.

Yet earlier this month, the University of Florida and Florida State University’spresidents testified before the House Committee on Education, calling for an increase in tuition for STEM degrees, which they believed would be worth more in the long run.

“If you look at the return on investment aftergraduation, you look at the demand for STEM hires, you can make a good case that, since that program costs more, you ought to have a (different) tuition for those programs,” UF President Bernie Machen said to the committee.

Education committeechairman Bill Proctor(R-St. Augustine) said raising STEM tuition would be in line with the state’s goals of creatingmore STEM graduates.

“If you’re going to produce more, you can only go so far on current resources,” he said.

The idea mirrors one USF implemented in fivegraduate programs last year -market-based tuition, a systemthat bases tuition on the demand for the major in the job market.

Yet USF President Judy Genshaft expressed someconcern over hiking the costs of STEM education when testifying to the committee on Jan. 18.

“Our demographic, as an urban institution is one that takes in a very diversepopulation, and we’re very pleased to do so,” she said. “I don’t have a problem with the market-based as long as we can care for the students who are Pell recipients. I don’t want to see students that have less of an income not be able to enter a field that they’retalented in. So, as long as we can cover that level, then I have no problem with the market-based.”

Since 2008, Genshaft said USF has been thesecond-highest producer of STEM graduates in the state, after UF.