Florida Gov. Rick Scott kicked off the Cyber Monday shopping day by firmly planting a “Sale” sign on some of the state’s community colleges.
Scott’s proposal: offering discounted bachelor’s degree programs, priced at $10,000 or less for in-state residents.
The governor’s $10,000 degree push is for now voluntary, but seven of Florida’s 28 community colleges have pledged to take part, including Broward College.
The $10,000 figure would cover the cost of tuition for all four years of college, though it may not include other costs such as textbooks.
“This $10,000 degree challenge will undoubtedly jump-start the dreams of many Floridians,” Scott said in a statement released by his office.
Broward College Provost Linda Howdyshell said the school is looking into offering $10,000 degrees in three areas: information technology, supervision and management, and transportation and logistics. With so many details still to be worked out, Howdyshell said it would be difficult to launch the initiative by fall of 2013, though the college might be able to begin one of the degree tracks by then.
Miami Dade College representatives declined to comment on Monday.
Right now, pursuing a bachelor’s degree at a Florida community college costs an average of $13,264 for four years of instruction. Obtaining a bachelor’s degree at a state university — where tuition has increased dramatically in recent years — costs about $25,700.
Though a $10,000 degree may sound like a tremendous bargain, that was roughly the standard price for a bachelor’s degree from a Florida community college as recently as the 2009-10 academic year. But since the recession began, Florida leaders have slashed higher education budgets deeply — reducing Florida’s higher education funding by about one-third during the past five years, prompting colleges to repeatedly raise tuition to make up the difference.
Scott has not committed any extra state funding to aid colleges in offering a $10,000 degree.
Florida Democrats mocked Scott’s proposal as an effort to make Florida colleges “the Walmart of education.” In a blog response to Scott’s announcement, Democrats were quick to point out how Republican governors and a Republican-dominated Legislature have repeatedly cut funding to higher education, even as they espouse its importance to the state’s economy.
“Actions speak louder than words, governor,” the party wrote on its website.
Howdyshell said Broward College is still figuring out how it will find the cost savings to allow some degree prices to drop to $10,000. But the provost said Broward’s commitment to the program is based on an assumption that state leaders will maintain the same level of per-student funding during the upcoming budget process.
“If they cut it more, it would make it more difficult,” Howdyshell said.
The $10,000 degree idea is the brainchild of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who launched the discounted degree program last year at some state universities.
Perry’s initiative garnered a mixed reception. Some have praised it for focusing college administrators’ attention on the issue of cost. In-state tuition has been rising fast in states across the country, and student loan debt nationally now exceeds consumer credit card debt.
But Perry’s plan also attracted a heap of criticism. Some higher education experts have dismissed $10,000 degrees as a gimmick that does little to actually reduce college costs. For one, the cheaper degrees are limited to a few majors, so other students at the same school are still paying much more, and are in effect subsidizing the cost of those cheaper degrees. Texas has been unable to reduce instructional costs enough so that the $10,000 degree is self-sufficient — in some cases, students have received a $5,000 “annual scholarship” in order to reduce tuition to the magic $10,000 number.
Even before Scott announced he would follow Texas’ lead, at least one Florida education leader was advising him not to.
In a Nov. 23 letter to the governor, state Board of Education member Roberto Martinez wrote “The ‘$10,000 Bachelor’s Degree’ is not a serious policy. It will be perceived as a gimmick pretending to be a policy used as a sound bite, and merely copying the plan announced last year by Governor Perry of Texas.”
Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart was more supportive, releasing a statement saying, “Florida needs to ensure that students have access to college and are able to afford that next step.”