As everyone knows, Rick Scott has always been about adding jobs to the rolls since getting elected Governor of Florida in 2010. And since it helps to have a good education to get a good job, he’s been similarly focused in recent years on making it more affordable for Floridians to get a degree.
Continuing in that vein on Tuesday, Scott traveled to the New Tampa headquarters of USAA, the financial services company for the military community and their families, where he unveiled what his staff is calling his, “Finish in Four, Save More” legislative and budget proposals to encourage colleges and universities to make higher education more affordable for students and get them out of school within four years.
“I’ve not met one person to get out of a university or state college and said ‘I’m interested in not having a job,'” Scott said as the dozens of staffers and interns laughed as they observed the press conference. “No one’s interested in going on unemployment or public housing or anything like. They’re interested in living their dream.”
Scott cited statistics that show that only 44 percent of undergraduate students at Florida state universities graduate within four years and 71 percent of students are graduating with four year degrees within six years. “So we have to do better,” he said.
His legislative proposal includes a request for freezing for all state colleges and universities fees. Currently fees at universities average almost $100 per credit hour and colleges average more than $26 per credit hour.
He’s also calling on state colleges to freeze any tuition increases. That follows a 2014 legislative proposal that limited the state’s universities ability to establish or raise a tuition differential.
The plan allows would cut teaching assistant fees by 25 percent. It would also expand the Bright Futures scholarship program to cover summer school classes (it currently only covers fall and spring semesters) and provide a sales tax exemption for students purchasing required textbooks, which Scott says will save students $48 million a year collectively.
“If you can’t afford your education, it doesn’t help if we have great universities and great state colleges,” the governor said later in meeting with reporters.
In the early part of the aughts, Florida’s university presidents bemoaned the low rate of statewide tuition, saying it hurt in recruiting esteemed professors from around the nation because of reduced funding available. That changed in 2007, when former Governor Charlie Crist signed legislation that approved a five percent tuition increase set by lawmakers. In 2008, the Legislature approved a six percent increase.
In 2009, Crist signed legislation allowing the Board of Governors to raise undergraduate tuition rates past whatever the Legislature approved. As long as the total increase didn’t exceed 15 percent per year, they were allowed to do this until tuition reached the national average, which was $8,893 in 2012-13.
Scott used that tuition rate hike against Crist when the two opposed each other for Governor in 2014.
The Legislature passed and Scott signed into a law in 2014 a bill that eliminated automatic tuition increases, even for inflation. The law did give the University of Florida and Florida State the ability to lobby the Board for a differential increase, up to a maximum of 6 percent.
The website 24/7 reported back in 2013 that Florida had the eight cheapest average tuition in the nation with an average instate tuition rate of $6,336.