Gov. Rick Scott is campaigning for reelection by campaigning for low university tuition, but he is part of the higher education problem in Florida.
The governor has tried to bully Florida’s universities into forgoing tuition increases, so he can claim that he’s keeping higher education affordable. After vetoing a 3 percent statewide increase, he complained Friday when Florida State University trustees approved a cost-of-living tuition increase. “It’s ridiculous how much tuition has gone up in the past five years,” said Gov. Scott. “Families are struggling.”
It’s true that universities have raised tuition revenue by 57 percent since 2008. It’s also true that over that period the universities’ state funding has been cut 35 percent. Gov. Scott approved a $300 million cut last year.
Gov. Scott wrongly calls tuition a “tax” on families. By his definition, the fee to camp at a state park is a “tax.” Also, the governor had no problem “raising taxes” on Florida families in 2011, when he approved an 8 percent tuition increase or last year when he approved a 5 percent increase.
In addition to this year’s veto, the governor has asked universities not to seek tuition increases from the Board of Governors, which runs the state university system. He’s asked the universities to offset that automatic 1.7 percent cost-of-living increase.
To get his way, Gov. Scott appointed board members who agree with him on tuition. The board ignored his request last year to reject tuition increases, but he now has nine appointees on the 17-member board.
The effect of holding the line on tuition is blunted this year by the additional $300 million the Legislature appropriated for higher education. Still, politics should not determine tuition or any higher education policy. Too often, it does, and the governor has done nothing to stop it.
Politics stuck Florida with an unneeded 12th university: Florida Polytechnic in Lakeland. The Legislature created the university last year as a favor to outgoing state Sen. J.D. Alexander. Florida Poly is in his old district.
Former Board of Governors Chairwoman Ava Parker is the new university’s interim chief operating officer. She’s being paid $275,000 a year. Cozy.
If Gov. Scott really wanted to make higher education better and more affordable, he wouldn’t have approved a new university that will cost more and drain resources from the other schools. He would focus more on what universities do with their money and how that affects quality.
Since 2007, university enrollment has grown nearly 10 percent, but the number of tenured faculty has dropped. According to a report in Florida Trend magazine, tenured and tenure-track faculty make up 25 percent of the teaching staff compared to 33 percent in 2004. Adjuncts and contracted instructors, who are cheaper, are replacing professors.
The ratio of students to faculty grew from 23.9 in 2007 to 25.1 in 2011. Also, some universities have hired administrators and managers at a faster pace than enrollment growth — a 21 percent increase from 2007 to 2011.
Did this increase the quality of education Florida’s families are getting for their tuition? That’s a question Gov. Scott would ask if he were thinking beyond November 2014.
for The Post Editorial Board