U.S. Senator Rick Scott came out strongly this week against raising tuition at Florida universities, in opposition to statements made by Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson and members of the Florida Board of Governors, hinting that they would consider such a increase.
As Florida faces a projected $3.4 billion general revenue shortfall next year, Florida state legislative and university leaders recognize there will be a lot of belt tightening in the upcoming legislative session .
With that shortfall in mind, Simpson said during a press availability following November’s legislative organizational meeting that raising tuition is a “viable opportunity.”
Simpson, who has made improvements to the foster-care system one of his top priorities, told reporters, “We had 90 percent of the students went to (the University of Florida) for free and then we have a crisis. We have the best university and college system in the country for the last four years in a row. We want to make sure we maintain a very high level of higher education, but, at the same time, we have kids in and out of foster care because we don’t have the resources to manage that system. So when you start putting priorities together, I’m gonna have a higher priority to make sure we protect those most vulnerable children. We haven’t raised tuition in this state for ten years and so our product, by an scale comparable, is a fraction, in most cases, of other states and something we will have to look at.”
In fact, Florida’s in-state tuition and fees averages about $6,300, placing the state with the second lowest tuition in the country, with only Wyoming charging less.
A story in the Sun-Sentinel reported that members of the Florida Board of Governors were also discussing a possible tuition increase and quoted member Eric Silagy as questioning which approach would be most appropriate, “Should we be looking at some point at adjusting tuition to pay for that difference rather than going back to the Legislature over and over again to make up or push on the universities more for really looking internally and how do you reduce expenses?”
Scott waded into the discussions by releasing his own statement on the subject. In it, he highlighted how he fought to hold the line on tuition by vetoing tuition increases, eliminating automatic inflationary tuition increases, freezing tuition, greatly limiting tuition differential, and appointing leaders who share his goal of providing an affordable higher education to Florida students and families. The statement also pointed out he worked to pass several constitutional amendments that make it harder to raise taxes and fees, including requiring two-thirds of the legislature to vote on a tax or fee increase for it to become law, and requiring a supermajority vote of the State Board of Governors to impose, raise or authorize university fees. As Senator, he is working to keep higher education affordable and make sure students are prepared to get good-paying jobs.
Scott said, “Raising tuition on families is a tax increase. And, it’s a tax increase that harms Floridians’ ability to achieve the American dream of earning a higher-education diploma. As families are still struggling to recover from the coronavirus, leaders in Florida should absolutely not consider raising tuition.”
“Over the last six years of my term as Governor, we held the line on tuition…,” he said. “The federal government has spent almost $14 billion in the CARES Act to give higher education institutions the support they need during the coronavirus, and with more classes moving online, university operations costs should be lower. Businesses and families around the country are having to navigate this difficult time – our universities have to do the same and live within their means instead of taking the easy way out and passing the costs on to students. The opportunities and dreams of future graduates are at stake, and we owe it to them to continue our fight against the tax increase of rising tuition.”