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UF, FSU Presidents: Hike Tuition on STEM Majors

January 12, 2012 - 6:00pm

With state leaders looking to overhaul education, increasing emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math majors, the presidents of the University of Florida and Florida State University said the state could increase tuition for students in the STEM fields.

Bernie Machen, University of Florida president, and Eric Barron, Florida State University president, told legislators on Friday that the hike would help cover the cost for the additional faculty needed to provide more STEM courses without increasing the costs for students in other fields.

Also, the higher fee could be justified by the anticipated higher career earnings potential for STEM majors.

A STEM degree person should pay more for that than they would for, say, an education degree, Machen said. If you look at the return on investment after graduation, you look at the demand for STEM hires, you can make a good case that since that program costs more you ought to have a (separate) tuition for those programs.

Barron addedthat STEM degrees cost more than a typical humanities program.

If I were increasing the cost of tuition for STEM degrees, I wouldnt be doing it just to level the playing field, but also to reinvest in those areas, he said. One on one research is something that is more expensive if you want it to be real.This isnt go sit in a library and work on a project if youre talking about a chemistry project.

All 11 presidents from the state university system are expected to address the House Education Committee by the end of next week as legislators look to overhaul the education system with a more businesslike approach dominated by STEM majors.

Education Committee Chairman Rep. William Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, said his personal opinion would be to give the schools more flexibility to grow STEM degrees and research programs.

Machen told the legislators that if his campus and maybe one or two others were allowed to surpass the state-mandated 15 percent cap on tuition, UF could jump into the top 10 of schools nationally, Machen said.

We are not like New College, except for FSU and one or two, we are so different in terms of demand, the services we provide, the degrees we offer; we must be allowed to be much more market sensitive, Machen said.

He noted tuition at Florida is $2,500 below the national average.

So why wouldnt it be in the states interest to allow the University of Florida and maybe several others to move closer to the market, and see if we can compete for faculty and raise our profile and improve the quality of our programs with more resources?

Gov. Rick Scott has sought more accountability from the individual universities, but has also favored allowing the schools to have more control over their prices.

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

Chancellor of the State University System of Florida Frank Brogan, noting that current juniors in the university system have seen tuition jump 45 percent since their freshman year and should expect the schools to again seek a 15 percent increase from lawmakers this year, agreed with the idea of different tuition levels by campus and for certain majors.

There are some programs that are vastly more expensive to operate than other programs, Brogan said after the meeting.

It has to be all tied to outcome measures he added. Saying we want to charge more for a STEM degree is one thing. Being able to show evidence at the end of the day that you are generating more STEM degrees, and it has not had negative impact on STEM-degree production, is another.

Brogan said the state system needs to move from a system that looks beyond just how many students come in the front door to one that considers retention, graduation and economic development rates.

The goal of the system is to "significantly" increase research and student retention rates by 2025, Brogan said.

Machen also suggested legislators consider altering requirements in the popular and generous Bright Future Scholarship program that covers the cost of up to 120 credit hours.

The problem, he said, is that students are not in a rush to graduate.

Im telling them they have to get out of here in three and a half years, Machen said. Theyre saying Why, president? I mean, were going to have a good football team next year and I want to come back and see us next fall, and my parents are not bugging me.'

He noted that students graduating in four years jumped 5 percent, to 65 percent last year. Machen credited that to students understanding economic realities.

It took me six years to move it 2 points and me and the economy moved it 5 points in one year, he said.

Among his suggestions to alter Bright Futures would be to allow the scholarship to cover summer-school courses and for the scholarship to have some guidance regarding the courses students must take.

Brogan said hed support the idea of making changes to Bright Futures, which would require legislative approval.

Scott has targeted higher education reform for the 2012 session, including making changes to professor tenure and focusing on courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics for a high-tech future.

Scott, drawing on data from the Agency for Workforce Innovation, has estimated Florida will need at least 120,000 workers in the science and math fields through 2018.

House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, has directed Proctor to look at the big picture on how each campus works together strategically.

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

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