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News Clips 12/10/2012
EDITORIAL: $10,000 College Degree: Rick Scott's Conceit
Source: Lakeland Ledger, 12/9/12
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Gov. Rick Scott has come up with a $10,000 Degree Challenge for state colleges in the Florida system.
It calls for four-year colleges — an outgrowth of what were community colleges — to offer bachelor's degrees with a four-year cost of $10,000. The mean cost of a four-year Florida state-college degree in the 2011-2012 school year was more than $13,000.
That arbitrary decrease of more than 23 percent — with no offer of additional state funding or assistance of any sort — reveals the challenge to be nothing more than a politically cynical trick. It is aimed at making Scott look good to students and families who have not delved into the details of state-college funding. It does so at the expense of state colleges, the public institutions that are stretched most thinly in higher education.
And this during a school year when state universities are coping with a $300 million cut supported by and signed into law by Scott. They operate under the separate State University System, and include massive-and-comprehensive institutions such as the University of South Florida in Tampa, the University of Central Florida in Orlando, the University of Florida in Gainesville and Florida State University in Tallahassee, not to mention the 12th state university, which was added to the system this year, the developing Florida Polytechnic University in northeast Lakeland.
The cost of a university degree is about $24,000.
BAIT AND SWITCH
The first college at which Scott called Nov. 26 with his bargain-degree plan was St. Petersburg College at its Clearwater campus. In 2002, the former St. Petersburg Junior College was the first two-year Florida community college to add four-year degrees to its two-year programs. Convincing it to offer a $10,000 four-year degree was politically prestigious.
A close look at the details of the deal shows that tarnish has dulled the glow already.
First, the Legislature would have to pass a law allowing colleges to charge different tuition rates for different degrees — essentially, a legalized bait-and-switch scheme for state colleges. No thank you.
Second, St. Petersburg College President Bill Law offered only one four-year program as a candidate for four-year tuition of $10,000: technology management and development.
Third, a portion of the credits would have to be completed before entering the degree program at the college. That this single $10,000 challenge contains two bait and switches is deplorable: The program is $10,000 as long as you already have finished a portion of it first — say, at high school.
POLK STATE COLLEGE
Eileen Holden, president of Polk State College, was wise to respond to Scott's challenge by outlining the value offered by the college and the success of its students, rather than risking that vital balance by jumping straight onto Scott's bandwagon.
Most of Polk State's four-year degrees cost “significantly” less than $14,000, Holden said.
More than 90 percent of the college's graduates gain their diplomas without taking on student-loan debt, reported The Ledger's Mary Toothman in an article Nov. 27.
“I agree with him that student-loan debt is a big problem,” Holden said about the governor, “and I'm proud that it isn't a problem at our institution.”
Polk State provides a great service to the county by offering a wide array of degree programs, both broad and specialized. Taking a chance of undermining its ability to do so — and to simultaneously expand to meet new educational needs, while maintaining the quality of its offers — would be harmful to students and the area.
A rigorous examination of the costs for operating four-year-degree programs at state colleges would be worthwhile. Such work by the Florida College System would be valuable, as would a legislative task force. Evaluate the costs and identify the need for funding. Then consider a $10,000 four-year degree that would benefit both the students and the colleges.
Such a cost examination for state universities would be of great use also. Finding a way to hold inflation in the cost of education in line with general national inflation, while keeping educational quality high, would be a true challenge — one worthy of accomplishing.
However, for Scott to act like the Star Trek character Jean-Luc Picard and simply say, “Make it so,” without examining the costs and consequences, is irresponsible and self-serving.