Gov. Rick Scott has said repeatedly that Florida needs more high-tech college graduates, including more math majors. But it may be the governor who needs a math lesson. His opposition to raising tuition at Florida's community colleges and 12 state universities — even as the state has rolled back its funding — doesn't add up to improved educational opportunities in Florida. Someone has to foot the bill, and until Scott acknowledges that, all his supposed support for higher education as a key economic driver in the state is just empty rhetoric.
Scott's latest opposition to tuition increases came Wednesday as he met with the Florida Board of Governors — and after the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Higher Education he created recommended allowing individual universities to raise tuition to the national average of their peers after meeting accountability standards. That proposal is similar to a legislative bill Scott vetoed earlier this year. Notably, the task force recommends giving the State University System's Board of Governors — not individual universities' Board of Trustees as the bill proposed — the authority to set tuition.
Unfortunately, the task force made a political calculation and let the state off the hook. Florida's funding for higher education has plummeted since the recession began, even as Scott and Republican legislative leaders have claimed a quality higher education system is essential to diversifying Florida's economy. This year alone, lawmakers created an expensive and unnecessary 12th university, Florida Polytechnic in Lakeland, even as they cut funding to the remaining 11 public universities by $300 million.
The result: While students are paying substantially more in tuition, Florida universities are spending less on educating them. In Florida, universities spend about half as much as universities in North Carolina. While taking the populist view that the state needs to keep tuition costs low, Scott fails to acknowledge his culpability in signing two years of budgets that have shortchanged the university systems and made tuition increases necessary.
The governor can't have it both ways. He can't say he wants to build the finest university system in the country, while refusing to commit the resources from the state or tuition. The math doesn't work that way.