Our view: Don't slash colleges
Source: Florida Today
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Higher education in Florida is in a battle for dollars that doesn't bode well for the state's economic future.
Or for the kind of education Brevard County students will receive at state institutions.
That's because Gov. Charlie Crist is targeting universities and colleges with a proposal for painful cuts.
All state agencies know they have to tighten their belts this year because of revenue losses from the stagnant housing and construction industries.
But Crist wants to single out higher education for a $272 million hit -- a 6.2 percent cut that's nearly double the 3.6 percent cuts he proposes for the state budget overall.
That means higher education would have to absorb 28 percent of a total of $980 million trimmed -- a far too high proportion.
Community colleges, including Brevard Community College, would see cuts of $84 million, or 9 percent of the total reductions, under the plan.
Here's why that's a bad idea at a bad time:
- Hiring is〈 frozen at some state universities, where student-faculty ratios are the second-highest in the nation.
The cuts Crist calls for will likely put them dead last, jamming students into already crowded classrooms and lowering academic quality.
- State〈 universities are already in a cash crunch because of shrinking state funding, and have capped enrollment, making admission odds tougher.
And while tuition at Florida schools is low compared to other states, top-tier schools can now charge higher tuition, and new fees may also be imposed.
Those changes will push more students to community colleges.
Indeed, enrollment at Brevard Community College has increased by more than 7 percent this year, says President Jim Drake.
The school is already cutting costs because of reduced state dollars.
But shouldering a disproportionate share of further cuts will have a substantial effect on BCC's and other state community colleges' ability to remain a hub for access to higher education for all, says Drake.
- Crist's proposal could also cost Brevard families on the Bright Futures front.
Bright Futures scholarships, funded by the Legislature, now pay most tuition costs for qualifying students with a B average or better.
They are popular with parents who rely on the scholarships financially, but university officials say the program must be changed because it keeps tuition rates too low, and goes to families that don't need the aid.
If higher education is unfairly targeted for cuts, as Crist proposes, Florida families can expect to see the battle to scrap -- or greatly scale back -- Bright Futures heat up.
- In the bigger picture, slashing higher education coffers unravels efforts to build a 21st-century economy in Florida by attracting cutting-edge research organizations.
Mediocre universities won't produce enough of the highly skilled professionals needed to bring those groups to the Sunshine State.
But that's the future, increasingly, Florida is heading for.
The Legislature put off a special session on budget matters, but will ultimately decide where the ax falls.
They should reject Crist's lopsided hit on higher education.