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Finish in Four worthy of consideration

Gov. Rick Scotts proposals for higher education have not always been popular, but his recent Finish in Four proposal may offer merits that the state legislature would be wise to consider.

While state legislators might steer away from a policy that commits to freezing tuition rates for four years in the face of a tumultuous economy that saw cuts as large as $300 million to the State University System as recently as last year, the plan offers incentives for both students and the
university system.

According to The Project on Student Debt, an initiative of the Institute for College Access and Success that tracks data from state institutions across the country, the average USF student in 2010 graduated with $21,679 in debt more than the state average of $21,184, or the average debt accrued by students graduating from the University of Florida or Florida State University that year.

Freezing tuition rates for four years would help students plan their finances better and prevent such enormous debt.

For USF students who enrolled in Fall 2009, their first semester tuition per credit hour, without fees tacked on, cost $150.10. By Fall 2010, the cost had increased to $170.80 per credit and by Fall 2011, $191.06. Coupled with increasing flat fees and differential fees, the amount of money needed to pay for a year college is vastly greater than when the student started.

The plan will additionally incentivize graduating in four years, something that many Florida universities will need to improve upon if they hope to be considered nationally prominent. USF currently has a 34 percent four-year graduation rate, and at least four other Florida universities have four-year graduation rates below 20 percent.

Graduation rates are not numbers that can be inflated overnight, but by freezing rates, students have added incentive to, as the name of the plan states, finish in four years.

While the state of Georgia adopted a Fixed for Four plan of a similar nature in 2006, the plan was abandoned in 2009, when the state raised tuition in an attempt to cut $60 million from the budget.

The plan will likely be unpopular amid a Florida legislature that has seen shrinking budgets on a yearly basis, with the exception of this year, and a four-year commitment may seem daunting. However, if education and prestigious education is to remain a priority of the state, the plan is worthy of serious consideration.