When Mitt Romney referred to that 47 percent of Americans who are dependent upon government ... who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, he might have had in mind the 15 or so public university students who attended a Tallahassee news conference Wednesday afternoon.
The collegians joined former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham and former Florida Sen. Rod Smith at the conference sponsored by the Florida Democratic Party.
Graham, who also served as governor of the Sunshine State from 1979 to 1987, condemned Florida Republicans for cutting state subsidies to public universities and allowing tuition rates to increase in recent years. He said public university students today foot about 40 percent of the bill for their education, while the state subsidizes the remaining 60 percent. While Graham was governor, the state covered 75 percent and students were responsible for only 25 percent.
We cant continue down this course if we aspire to be a state where young people want to plant their personal flags, Graham told attendees. In almost every one of our House races and in the Senate races we are involved in, youre hearing about education again. It is front and center, because families in Florida, when they sit down at the breakfast table, are worried about not only jobs for themselves, but jobs for their children and grandchildren.
We have demonstrably devalued education in this state, said Smith, who currently serves as chairman of the state Democratic Party.
After he and Graham delivered their remarks, three undergraduate students took to the podium, and one after the other delivered a testimony. The students complained that increased tuition costs and decreased state subsidies have forced them to make cost-benefit analyses they otherwise wouldnt have to: to change majors dropped from the university curriculum, to decide which and how many courses to take, and to decide whether they can afford to attend school full-time in a given semester.
Even with recent increases, Floridas universities remain among the cheapest in the nation. The average annual tuition at a state college or university is $5,531 the 45th lowest state average in the country, while the national public tuition average is $8,200.
One reporter noted the irony of Grahams opposition to tuition increases, given that the former governor is plaintiff in a case currently before the Florida Supreme Court, arguing that under the Florida Constitution it is the state university systems Board of Governors alone -- and not the Florida Legislature -- that has authority to set tuition rates. The Board of Governors has long agitated for the power to raise tuition higher than state statutes currently allow.
Sunshine State News asked Smith and Graham where the funds to offset tuition costs should come from -- e.g., which programs should be cut, and whose taxes increased. The Democratic lawmakers declined repeated requests to offer specific examples.
"Its easy for the Democratic Party to play the role of critic, but what they dont offer are any real solutions, Abigail MacIver, director of policy and external affairs at Americans for Prosperity Florida, told Sunshine State News after the conference. I'm not sure where the Florida Democratic Party chairman would like the increased funding for Florida's universities to come from -- they want the lowest costs while being able to provide the best education; they don't want tuition to increase but they want more classes and more teachers.
MacIver suggested the press conference amounted to little more than a publicity stunt aimed at manipulating the youth vote.
This smells like the Democratic Party telling the college student voting bloc what they want to hear without providing any real detail, she said. Today it's education, but they criticize any cuts made to other programs as well. We need elected officials who can offer real solutions, encourage our universities to innovate while trimming costs, and actually preserve the value that Florida has created in our university system."
Reach Eric Giunta at email@example.com or at 954-235-9116.