Florida Gov. Rick Scott is proposing a new challenge for colleges in the Sunshine State: charge students only $10,000 for tuition.
To nudge students toward job-friendly degrees, the governor’s task force on higher education suggested recently that university tuition rates be frozen for three years for majors in “strategic areas,” which would vary depending on supply and demand. An undergraduate student would pay less for a degree in engineering or biotechnology—whose classes are among the most expensive for universities—than for a degree in history or psychology. State financing, which has dropped drastically in the past five years, would be expected to make up the tuition gap.
Scott announced his "$10,000 Degree Challenge" to Florida's 28 state colleges at the end of November, stating, "I am issuing a challenge to our state colleges to find innovative ways to offer a bachelor’s degree at a cost of just $10,000 in fields that will provide graduates with the best opportunity for employment."
In an interview with a Tampa television station, Scott elaborated on the reasoning behind his plan. "What I’m doing is saying to our state colleges, ‘Can you come up with $10,000 degrees, where people can get great jobs… so you could live your version of the American dream?"
To offset the costs in Florida, as the Times noted, the state is expected to make up the tuition gap. State colleges in Florida who take on the governor's challenge would be expected to slash tuition for "job-friendly degrees" by more than $3,000.
Critics of Scott's plan worry that the quality of education could suffer in order for administrators to meet the $10,000 standard, from using online courses to assigning adjunct professors and teaching assistants to teach classes.
Educators are also speaking out against Scott's challenge. In a blog post last week, University of South Florida Professor Sherman Dorn wrote, "There is too little evidence that differential tuition would drive many students to consider STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] careers." He called the challenge "foolish" and added, "You cannot dramatically boost physics enrollment by stealing from philosophy. But you can ruin a philosophy program."
Gov. Rick Perry proposed a similar challenge in Texas last year in response to skyrocketing tuition throughout the state. Some universities in Texas that have adopted this program are charging less to students pursuing degrees from computer science to math.