Editorial: Legislature must raise tuition
Palm Beach Post Editorial: Pick a better tuition fight
Friday, March 06, 2009
Stanley G. Tate, founder of the Florida Prepaid College Program, may spend $500,000 fighting legislation that would let every public university in the state increase its tuition by up to 15 percent. Mr. Tate has been a wonderful advocate for higher education, but his money would be better spent on scholarships for the families he's trying to protect.
Florida Prepaid sells contracts that allow parents to lock in today's prices for future tuition and fees. The plans can be paid for in one lump sum or monthly installments. More than 900,000 children are enrolled in the program that began in 1988. Mr. Tate says the legislation, which has Gov. Crist's support, would kill the program by making it too expensive for the low- and moderate-income parents for which it was designed. "I want to keep it affordable," said Mr. Tate. "I think for low-income families to be forced out of the ability to send a child to college is terribly wrong when a high percent of the universities' cost of operation comes from the sales tax, and they pay it just like everybody else."
Mr. Tate is correct that the state needs to find ways to make college affordable, but the answer is not to keep Florida's tuition the lowest in the nation. For years, legislators made only modest increases in tuition at Florida's 11 public universities because they didn't want to bankrupt the prepaid program or disrupt the Bright Futures scholarship program. In 2007, the Legislature gave five universities the ability to raise tuition up to 15 percent each year above the base tuition set by the Legislature. That increase is called the tuition differential. The other six universities are seeking that power this year. Prepaid plans purchased prior to July 1, 2007, would be exempt from paying the differential.
Mr. Tate wants the Legislature to find new revenue - from higher cigarette and liquor taxes and elimination of sales tax exemptions - instead of raising tuition by double-digit rates.
In fact, the Legislature must raise tuition and provide more revenue to make Florida's university system one of the nation's best. The legislation will bring tuition just up to the national average. To help those families Mr. Tate rightly worries about, a portion of the tuition increase will be for need-based financial aid.
Mr. Tate correctly points out that Bright Futures, which will award $430 million in scholarships this year, helps many students whose parents can afford their college education. Some of that money, from lottery sales, should be given to those students who couldn't attend college without assistance.
But if Florida keeps tuition depressed to keep the prepaid program affordable, the result will be mediocrity. And that wouldn't help any family who wants a child's degree to mean something.