Scott task force: Charge lower tuition in high-demand degree fields

Published: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 at 5:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 at 5:39 p.m.

State university students seeking degrees that are highly sought by employers would get a break on tuition, but others might pay higher rates under recommendations approved Tuesday by the governor’s higher education task force.

The seven-member group unanimously approved a slate of recommendations scheduled to be delivered by Nov. 15 to Gov. Rick Scott. Several proposals would move the state away from charging similar undergraduate tuition rates for all universities and programs.

Before creating the task force, Scott vetoed a bill that would have let the University of Florida and other pre-eminent universities seek tuition increases greater than 15 percent. The task force revived a similar plan, but members said higher tuition wouldn’t be the first option.

“The task force is not recommending that tuition go up … The task force is recommending that the universities be funded at a level necessary to succeed,” said University of North Florida President John Delaney, a task force member.

“In the absence of the ability of the governor and the Legislature to be able to do that, then the only alternative is to deal with tuition,” he added.

Scott is expected to address the Board of Governors, the governing body of the state university system, at its meeting today at New College of Florida in Sarasota. Task force chairman Dale Brill is presenting the group’s recommendations later in the meeting.

The group’s recommendations would connect universities’ funding to their performance. Tuition could be increased if the state couldn’t meet its obligations.

The proposal to charge lower tuition for a high-demand degree program is an example. The plan would commit universities to not raising tuition on those programs for three years or until the economy improves.

Lawmakers would designate the programs and agree to make up the lost tuition revenue. If not, universities could seek higher tuition rates.

The group’s members conceded that the proposal was not the best way to steer students to those fields in the long term. Delaney said it would be more efficient to use scholarships. Task force member Frank Fuller said the plan was a first step to reduce unemployment.

“This isn’t a long-term fix; this is just a fix until we start getting the employment number reduced,” he said.

Scott has called for universities to produce more degree holders in high-demand fields, including the so-called STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Fuller, a former educator serving as an education policy adviser to the Florida Senate, noted that about half of the high-demand disciplines identified by the state Department of Economic Opportunity fell outside STEM.

“This isn’t a STEM initiative, this is a balanced approach,” he said.

Another task force recommendation would create a low-cost bachelor’s degree option, with a target of costing about $15,000, until the state’s unemployment rate falls to 7 percent or below. Delaney said that proposal leaves open whether the option would be provided by universities or state colleges.

The group also recommended that the Board of Governors have direct involvement in the search for and appointment of university presidents. Delaney said current law states that the board “shall approve” the picks of universities’ trustees, leaving it little choice.

“I think there will be a lot more responsiveness of the presidents to the Board of Governors if this recommendation is adopted,” he said.

Contact staff reporter Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or Visit for more stories on the University of Florida.

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