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Rick Scott Studying Unlimited Tuition Increases for STEM-Degree Programs

April 24, 2012 - 6:00pm

Two drafts have been prepared for the governor on the future of tuition hikes at Florida universities.

One backs up his veto of House Bill 7129, which was crafted to give universities -- primarily the University of Florida and Florida State University -- the power to seek unlimited tuition increases from their board of trustees and the state Board of Governors.

The second letter supports the pre-eminent university bill that university leaders said is needed to help improve the national standing of Floridas top schools.

What I care about in thinking that through: 'What are we doing making sure our kids are able to afford their higher ed and are we going to make sure they can get jobs?'" Scott told reporters Tuesday.

Scott has until Saturday to sign, veto or allow the bill to become law without his signature.

Scott has repeatedly said he is opposed to increases in tuition, while at the same time he wants to see an increase in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees that are seen as building a more viable work force to attract and retain business in Florida.

I think you have to do what every business has done, you have to find efficiencies, Scott said. Business is trying to solve the needs of their customers, in this case the customers (are) partially who pays the bill; partially that comes from the state and partially that's coming from who is getting the degree; partially its the employer.

Scott said he continues to consider the pros and cons of the bill, thus the need for the two drafts having been prepared.

On the con side is the fiscal impact to students and parents, Scott said. The pro side is growing a work force that trained for high-tech jobs the state has sought to attract.

I dont want to see tuition increases, unless (university leaders have) gone through and they said, There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. Weve tightened our belts. This is how weve saved money. If we can do what the private sector has done to figure out how to do things more efficiently.

On April 12, FSU president Eric Barron and UF president Bernie Machen lobbied Scott for the power to seek higher tuition that would be allowed under HB 7129.

Known as the pre-eminence bill, HB 7129 requires a university to meet 11 of 14 benchmarks,in order to seek the tuition rate hikes.
Barron and Machen have both said their schools already surpass the benchmarks and the additional money would help increase staff and programs.

While some students have protested the threat of another year of tuition increases, the two presidents have been calling for the tuition hikes after state leaders began looking to overhaul education, increasing emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math majors.

We all know corporations are very interested in a skilled work force, Barron told Scott at the public meeting April 12 in the Capitol. The top 100 research universities in this country attract $40 billion in corporate and federal dollars. The next 550 universities attract only $10 (billion).

State law currently limits tuition increases to 15 percent annually, which the schools have taken advantage of the past three years to offset declining state revenue.

Neither has said how high they would like to raise tuition, yet Machen said his goal would be to set a rate for those entering as freshmen in 2013 that can remain flat for four years.

Scott's decision will come in the shadow of his decisions April 17 to sign the state budget that uses $300 million from university reserves and April 20 to speed the creation of the STEM-focused Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland out of the University of South Floridas branch campus.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

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