TALLAHASSEE Fla. — Gov. Rick Scott on Monday challenged Florida’s community and state colleges to develop four-year degrees that would cost no more than $10,000, which also would continue their move into an area that was once the sole domain of the state’s public universities.
The mean level of tuition and fees was $3,328 during the 2011-12 academic year, according the Department of Education’s 2012 annual report for the Florida College System. At that rate, a four-year degree would cost about $13,300, or $3,300 above Scott’s goal. Tuition and fees for four years at a Florida university average about $25,000, or nearly twice as much as for the 28 colleges.
Scott made his proposal before an audience of elected officials as well as college and community leaders at the Clearwater campus of St. Petersburg College. It’s the first school to take up his challenge.
The Republican governor, who campaigned in 2010 on a promise of job creation, said the degrees should be “in fields that will provide the graduates with the best opportunity for employment.”
The idea drew applause from state education officials, but the Florida Democratic Party criticized his proposal, noting Scott supported a $300 million spending cut for state universities this year and reductions in merit-based Bright Futures scholarships.
“We’ve heard these empty words from Rick Scott before and Florida’s middle class families are looking for real leadership not failed gimmicks masquerading as sound bites,” the Democrats said in a statement.
The colleges in recent years have begun offering a limited number of four-year degrees, but the bulk of their students remain in two-year programs. Most of Florida’s bachelor’s degrees still are produced by the state’s 12 public universities. Their graduates, though, include thousands of former community and state college students who transfer for their final two years.
Scott’s challenge came just three weeks after his Blue Ribbon Task Force on State Higher Education Reform recommended that Florida’s 12 universities be allowed to increase tuition rates if they meet certain quality criteria. That’s something Scott has opposed in the past although Florida’s tuition rates are among the lowest in the nation.
“As I travel the state, families tell me that they care about three things getting a good job, a quality education, and enjoying a low cost of living,” Scott said in a statement. “As a former community college student myself, I know how important it is for us to keep costs low.”
St. Petersburg College President Bill Law said the school, which was the first Florida community college to offer four-year degrees, “is once again excited about the opportunity to be part of a statewide college pilot program that lowers the cost of a college education.”
Scott’s proposal also won the immediate support of several members of the State Board of Education, which oversees the state and community colleges.
Board Chairman Gary Chartrand said it would help reduce the need for student loans or lower the amount people have to borrow. Having to take out large loans may be discouraging people from going to college “even though statistics show the value of a degree in lifetime earning potential,” he said.
State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan agreed that ensuring affordability was important.
“We’re proud that tuition at our State Universities remains among the lowest in the nation, while our high-quality educational offerings ensure a good return on that investment,” he said.