You want to bash Rick Scott, look for something besides his defiant stand against college tuition increases. Right now he's a Florida student's, a Florida family's best friend.
He also stands with the leaders of a handful of states and universities on the leading edge of moves to alleviate loan burdens on students. States like Florida, Texas and now North Carolina and Michigan are showing the rest of the country how it's done.
As of March, the national student loan debt stood just off the $1 trillion mark, at $986 billion.
Students are drowning in debt. Never mind how cheap you hear Florida tuition is. No four-year college in this country, not even in the Sunshine State, offers an education middle-class students can afford.
Scott has sunk his teeth in. He doesn't care that the Florida College System was ranked the most affordable in the country by the U.S. Department of Educations College Affordability and Transparency Center. Or that among public, four-year institutions, the center identified 19 Florida colleges as enviably in the bottom 10 percent for tuition and fees. The average for tuition and fees in the FCS for public, four-year institutions is $2,792, well below the midpoint of the national average of $7,135. The average for tuition and fees in the FCS for public, two-year institutions is $2,727, below the national average of $2,905.
The governor could have turned his back and rested on those laurels. Certainly it would have been the easier out. Academians and some in the Florida Legislature protested his interference vehemently. Nevertheless, he acted on his conscience, on his sense of what is right for Florida, for Floridians, for the future of the Sunshine State:
- The governor believes tuition should be the same when students graduate as when they start.
- He pushed state colleges to lower the cost of four-year degrees with a "challenge" to offer at least one degree at $10,000. Every college offering four-year degrees has now agreed to be a part of that challenge.
- Since the start of the new year, Scott has stubbornly, persistently opposed raising college tuition in Florida even a single penny. Finally, in a pleading letter to the Board of Governors June 20, he wrote this: "For many students, an increase in tuition or fees would mean an increase in the debt burden they will carry following their graduation at a time when interest rates on student loans are scheduled to double. Even without this increase, a recent study discussed in the attached article from the Boston Globe shows that 70 percent of the class of 2013 is graduating with debt averaging $35,200 ..."
- On Monday Scott issued a public statement to Congress, calling members irresponsible for going on recess without fixing Stafford student-loan interest rates. Because of Congress's inaction, they doubled July 1, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. Explained the governor,The rising cost of a four-year degree at a university not only makes it difficult for our children to obtain a degree, but makes planning for college difficult for Florida families. Since 2006-2007, the price of a prepaid four-year university plan for a newborn has increased from $14,616 to $53,729 - more than a 350 percent increase in six years."
Florida schools could go much further, as UNC at Chapel Hill has done, for instance, by increasing grant and scholarship funds, using a cut of the school's trademarked merchandise sold in campus stories to profit-share for more student aid and lower tuition.
But the real solutions have to come from Washington, and Washington doesn't act until the states exert pressure and twist a few important arms in Congress. Rick Scott is keeping rising college costs on Florida's front burner.
However rocky his term in office may have started in your eyes, the governor has developed a resolve and a strong sense of priorities for doing the right things to make Florida a better place. Being smart about college costs is certainly right up there with the best of them.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423.