The House approved a measure Tuesday that would allow universities that meet certain requirements to raise tuition with no limits. Currently, only University of Florida and Florida State University meet at least the minimum 11 of 14 requirements necessary to qualify.
The Florida Senate has already approved the measure, but the bill still needs to be approved by both full chambers and signed off by Gov. Rick Scott, who has adamantly opposed tuition increases.
The bill, which allows for what senators are calling “market-rate tuition,” attempts to keep Florida universities competitive with other big-name research universities. However, the ability to raise tuition above the yearly maximum of 15 percent will not only weed out the less competitive students, but also those with fewer economic means.
One of the requirements that could qualify universities to be exempt from the 15 percent rule includes having an incoming freshman class with an average GPA of 3.8, according to the Miami Herald, but it doesn’t matter how impressive a student’s GPA is if they cannot afford to attend school.
As early as 2009, USF Provost Ralph Wilcox told The Oracle, “We’re becoming more private in a sense, and private universities rely more on, and I hate to use this term, but they rely more on their clients, their customers – their students.” While it appears that state-funded universities are moving toward privatization, what distinguishes them from private Florida universities such as University of Tampa is the fact that they are accessible to students across the state.
It is possible that if UF and FSU are granted special access to more income based on 14 seemingly arbitrary requirements, USF, which already meets seven on the requirements, as well as other Florida universities may strive to achieve the same expectations – leaving fewer options for those who wish to earn a degree with limited fiscal or educational means.
USF, known for being a commuter school, serves many students in the area who may be balancing their education with other full-time responsibilities.
Raising the tuition may sound like a temporary solution for universities facing large budget cuts in the midst of a recession, but it is not solving the underlying issue of statewide budget cuts to universities. The bill may be another attempt by the Senate to raise tuition to compensate for state cuts under the guise of encouraging science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) universities to compete.
Tuition raises of any amount will only place a bandage on rising costs for universities and could perhaps prompt legislators to provide less funding if they believe universities could make up the difference with tuition.
State universities are designed to be affordable for in-state citizens. No matter how prestigious universities strive to be, their goal should be to serve and educate in-state students who currently face dismal job prospects. Raising tuition will not raise the number of jobs available for Florida citizens in STEM or any other fields. Before education becomes privatized, Florida legislators need to step up and solve underlying issues like employment rates and leave market-rate tuition to private schools.