Hooper: State college students have power in education funding debate

You'll ask about his partying. He'll ask about money.

You'll want to know about her new boyfriend. She'll change the subject.

You'll inquire about his major. He'll insist its minor.

You'll ask for grades. She'll ask for the car keys.

Parents of college students will likely experience this Cat's in the Cradle (Google it, kids) moment when their college son or daughter comes home for the holidays, but if they're returning from a state university — like my two sons — remind them they possess power.

Yes, power.

If they reviewed the results of the presidential election, they may hold some awareness of what they can do when they engage in politics. Adults under 30, many college students, received a lot of credit for helping President Barack Obama win re-election.

But that could be just the start. In 2013, students will have the opportunity to make their voices heard in a contentious debate about how Florida will fund higher education. The louder they speak, the more likely they are to face stable tuition costs, smaller classes, smarter professors and more course offerings.

• • •

State university presidents stood together in Tallahassee this month and offered the Legislature a proposal: Fund higher education to the tune of $118 million, and we won't have to raise tuition in 2013.

The presidents rightfully argue it's a no-brainer. The Legislature has cut higher education funding by nearly 40 percent during the past five years, and in turn, the universities raised tuition to absorb some of the cuts while streamlining costs.

Of course, the cuts made an impact. A lot of students have to fight to meet the added tuition costs while even more incur greater debt. Others struggle to graduate in a timely fashion because the needed courses aren't offered.

Remember this, the longer they take to graduate, the longer it takes for them to become revenue-generating, tax-paying citizens.

And despite all the talk about degree holders struggling to find jobs, it's worth noting that unemployment for college graduates stands at 4 percent, less than half of the national rate.

Really, that's the core of this grand collegiate bargain. It's not just about infusing education for deserving students, it's about investing in economic development.

Just a reminder: USF-Tampa is Hillsborough County's third-largest employer.

And the patents developed at the university — it ranks among the nation's leaders — spin off into new companies.

Overall, the state university system has an $80 billion annual economic impact.

The presidents have a can-do attitude when tying the funding to performance standards for graduation rates and job placement, an important caveat in the debate.

But let's be clear: This idea began with the student leaders — the Florida Student Association — who have grown weary of seeing the state's funding of higher education lag 30 percent behind the national average. They fostered the Aim Higher Florida campaign.

But it won't matter if the student leaders don't get the support of their fellow students. That's why us parents have to point them to aimhigherfl.com.

The Aim Higher Florida Facebook page has more than 500 likes.

There are more than 330,000 students in the state university system.

Do they see what we see? Do they hear what we hear?

Do they know the power they possess?

That's all I'm saying.

Hooper: State college students have power in education funding debate 12/13/12 [Last modified: Thursday, December 13, 2012 3:30am]

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