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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

A weekend interview with Florida Prepaid founder Stanley Tate

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April

4sta_tate033109_a_62410c Florida lawmakers are moving to let the state's universities increase tuition to help cover revenue shortfalls. Stanley Tate, founder of the state prepaid college tuition program, wants to stop the effort in its tracks, arguing it would hurt the Florida's low-income families.

He's started a Web site against the bill, collecting support from families but not lawmakers. Tate spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about his attempts to stop tuition from rising.

I want to hear about what you're trying to do.

The story is interesting. And of course it plays the line of the educators and the campaign they're running that this need has to be addressed by an increase in tuition. Unfortunately, what I've asked for and cannot seem to get is, why can't they cut out some of the noneducational programs that seem to run such a high percentage of the cost of the university system?

Do you have any particulars in mind?

Well, sports programs. Things that are noneducational that might perhaps reduce their operating expenses. You know, the truth of the matter is all of the universities want to be research and development universities. And that's nice. But we can hardly afford 11 universities that have graduate schools, like law schools and medical schools. Even the AMA came out against the last two medical schools that were granted the right to establish. It's not that the state doesn't need doctors. It's that the doctors don't go where the state needs them.

UF looked at the idea of cutting back some of its undergraduate programs and focusing on its graduate programs, letting some of the other schools focus on undergraduates. But the students rebelled.

No. I understand. Listen. Students don't pay for tuition. Students go to school because their moms and dads pay for tuition. And it's nice for a student to say, 'We want more of this' and 'We want more of that.' The question really is one of affordability. When you run a business, you try to pick out those parts that are most important, those that must be maintained and sustained in order to remain in business. And you cut out some of the frills. No one knows what the frills are because the universities won't give the breakdown of the expenses. If the Board of Governors really did the job, the first thing they should do is try to see what can be cut from the universities that are nonessential expenditures, not to eliminate 60 percent of the population.

You know, the low- and low-middle income families represent the highest percent of the population of this state. And the fact that Florida has the lowest tuition, that's a misnomer. The fact of the matter is, the state of Florida contributes the most to the cost of an education -- 78 cents out of every educational dollar is contributed by the state. Where does that come from? State sales tax. Who pays the state sales tax? The low and middle income families, just like everyone else.

So the truth of the matter is, they are being thrown out because they can't afford the increases. And they are now paying 78 cents out of every dollar for the cost of keeping the doors open for the universities.

When you take your message to Tallahassee, do you feel like you're getting a welcoming reception?

No. I'm not getting a welcome reception at all. I'm getting not an adversarial reception, it's one that they seem to say, 'Okay, you're here. You're spending money. You're representing a large number of constituencies. But we need more professors.' You know, the truth is, they don't know what they're saying, because no one has given them the facts to support what they're saying, except for the university presidents saying that we need more professors in order that the freshmen and sophomores aren't taught by graduate students. I went to the University of Florida 60 years ago. And we were taught by graduate students. That's just a lot of bull.

The truth of the matter is, the salary level of the administrators of the state university system is eighth highest in the country. I don't see any of the university presidents offering to cut their salaries. You can laugh, but they're getting huge salaries, they're all getting big money. And it's nice to say we want to have the best universities in the country. The truth of the matter is, they say that to attract industry. That's just words. The truth is, when you look for an employee and you interview, yes, on an application blank it does say 'education' and it does say, 'Did you go to college?' It never says, 'What college did you graduate from?' Because no one really cares. And they also ask what degree did you get. Yes. Did you go to college, graduate from college, what degree did you get? Those are all important considerations for an employer.

It's not whether you went to the University of Florida or FIU or FAU. They couldn't care less, because they're all grouped together as one type of public school. They're not Harvards, and they never will be Harvards. The University of Florida, FSU -- they may get higher gradings in US News and World Report, and that's great. I'm all in favor of that. But the truth is, they're never going to be the Northeastern universities, the Ivy Leagues. They're just not in that category.

Some of the students are talking about how they want to see tuition raised. Does that go back to your theory that they don't pay?

Sure. They don't. They want the schools to get higher ratings in US News and World Report because they have the perception, which is not reality, that if the schools are better thought of by the general public that they'll get a job easier. It doesn't work like that. ...

Has the governor talked with you at all? He used to be really big on leaving tuition alone.

He used to be big in the beginning. He absolutely committed to me that he was against these types of increases because it would throw out the lower income families from being able to afford a college education. The chamber of commerce and the university presidents, all 11 of them, put forth as good a campaign as I have ever seen in order to convince everyone that in order to have great universities we need higher tuition. And tuition does not create great universities. Higher tuition only creates bigger pay, more opportunities, more jobs -- things that are nice and good when times are good and the economy is good.

Of all the times to raise tuition, this is the worst. It's really going to eliminate a high percentage of the population of the state of Florida that pay 78 cents out of every dollar to open the universities and keep them going. And then they're going to say, 'You can't go, because you can't afford it.' ...

Do you get a sense that you need to go back to Tallahassee?

Yeah. I'm going to go back. I don't think I will accomplish much. The university presidents have done an outstanding job of convincing everyone that in order to have great universities, we need to have more money. What we need is not great universities. What we need is an educated population. That is much more important than having great universities. Yeah, maybe one or two of them ought to be research and development. Maybe U of F and FSU, and be allocated on that basis. But we can't afford to have 11 R&D universities. We just can't do it. Yet none of the universities wants to let the other universities be R&D. They all want it. And that's nice. But what's affordable? ...

The truth of the matter is that the students who come from wealthier families are the ones who are most welcome at the universities. Because they don't have to work, they have a better opportunity to get higher grades. It takes them longer to graduate, because none of them seem to know what they want. But that's of less importance to the university presidents. The administrators of the universities in my opinion are falling far short of their responsibility, first and foremost to educate. That's what their responsibility is, to educate. They say they need more professors to educate. I say to you, they've got more professors than they now need, because most of them aren't teaching. ...

So if people want to join your effort and try to fight the fight with you ...

Large numbers are on the Web. We know we've had over 400,000 hits. And every single one has been against the increase. Every single one. ... So is it important to the elected officials? I would think they want to know what their constituents think about it. Parents want their kids to be able to go to college, not because they want to be able to say, 'My child is a college graduate.' It's because it gives them a better opportunity to earn more money. People who earn more money are more stable for the community. ... I just am a firm believer in educating the low-income people. You don't see very many college graduates in jail. ... An educated population, what does it do? Instead of having to steal a car, you can buy a car. That's the major difference. And that's what it is all about. It's a major social issue for this state.

To eliminate the low- and low-middle income families from ever being able to afford a college education is a disgrace, when they pay 78 cents out of tax dollars for their education, plus the cost of tuition at the other 22 cents.

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[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:19am]

    

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