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A Times Editorial

Florida can't afford to keep being cheap

Gov. Rick Scott's opposition to increasing tuition at Florida's public universities and colleges reflects a lack of understanding about the poor financial state of higher education. The governor envisions education as a key to building a better Florida economy, yet he would rather be cheap and cut costs than invest to improve quality. Florida's average public university tuition of $5,626 is far below the tuitions that drew attention from President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address.

Florida's historically lackluster financial commitment to higher education — and rock-bottom tuition — has already put this state at a significant disadvantage in attracting and keeping top faculty, maintaining quality programs or creating smaller classes that can be such a vital part of a quality college experience. And the less robust the education, the less chance for economic dividends in the community at large.

In recent years, Republican legislative leaders appear to finally understand that low tuition helps shortchange the student's entire educational experience. The Legislature has steadily increased public college and university tuition with an eye on eventually getting to the national average, which is $8,244 for public universities. Even as lawmakers have cut state spending on higher education in recent years due to the recession, there's general understanding that when the economy rebounds, so should investment in colleges and universities.

Next year's proposed base tuition increase, as recommended by House leaders last week, is 8 percent. Scott indicated last week he wouldn't support it. But if Scott's serious about building a quality higher education system, he can't do it on the cheap. Former State University System chancellor Charlie Reed, now in charge of the California State University system, used to lament that Florida's unofficial slogan was, "We're cheap and we're proud of it." That policy hasn't moved Florida into the top tier of public higher education in this nation. Why should the governor think it would work now?

Where Florida higher education stands

In prestige …

10 Rank of faculty at Florida's public universities, in numbers of members who belong to the prestigious National Academy. Florida has 38 members. No. 1 California has 660. Florida also trails Texas, Washington, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Colorado, North Carolina and Virginia.

0 Number of public Florida universities that made the top 50 of national universities in U.S. News & World Report's annual Best Colleges ranking.

In affordability …

1/3 How much less Florida's average public university tuition and fees of $5,626 is than the national average of $8,244 for public universities.

44 Florida's rank among the 50 public university systems in average tuition and fees charged. Only West Virginia, New Mexico, Alaska, Utah, Louisiana and Wyoming are cheaper.

In resources …

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: The private University of Miami ranks 38th in U.S. News & World Report's Best Colleges listing of National Universities. A Sunday editorial incorrectly reported no Florida institutions ranked in the top 50.

Florida can't afford to keep being cheap 02/04/12 [Last modified: Monday, February 6, 2012 5:49pm]
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