In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Gov’s 10K tuition push is political gimmick

Gov. Rick Scott’s latest brilliant idea: He wants you, young Floridian, to get a cheap college education.

Not just any education, but a four-year bachelor’s degree for the bargain-basement price of $10,000.

In a media blitz at St. Petersburg College and Valencia Community College in Orlando this week, the Republican governor publicly told leaders of the 28 state colleges what his people had already delivered by phone as they sought credible podiums for Scott: Colleges need to figure out ways to reduce costs and come up with “10K,” four-year programs.

The Democrats quickly dubbed the plan “The Walmart of Education.”

College and university presidents are terrified of this governor, who wields an ideological ax at budget time and is vindictive (just ask the University of Florida, that bastion of liberal thinkers who issue liberal arts and anthropology degrees and became the target of the governor shortly after inauguration).

So Scott was flanked at his press conferences by college presidents who already miraculously had terrific proposals in hand.

In order to meet Scott’s so-called “challenge,” these presidents would have to reduce the cost of tuition for a bachelor’s degree by at least $3,000 – and while they presented vague ideas like reducing tuition the last year for “students who qualify” for electrical and computer engineering degrees, there wasn’t much discussion on how to actually make up the cuts.

It’s not hard to see that behind the governor’s proposal lurks the ideological zealotry that has marked his two years in office.

He’ll do whatever it takes to make sure Florida’s future generations of college graduates do not get the kind of well-rounded education that helps them become independent, critical thinkers, engaged citizens. You know, people who vote with a social conscience.

That Scott, who’s headed to end up in the record books as the most unpopular governor in Florida history, would dream up a populist gimmick in an attempt to boost his poll rankings, is not surprising.

But most troubling is that Scott’s proposal received the backing of every member of the state Board of Education —except, thankfully, vice chair Roberto Martinez.

Martinez wisely wrote to Scott that a bargain bachelor’s “will undermine the quality and value of the education, hurting our students’ chances to compete successfully in our 21st Century economy.”

Funding education, Martinez added, is the investment we need to make.

Scott could start by restoring the funds he and the Republican-dominated Legislature have slashed from colleges and universities to the tune of $300 million during the past two years.

Or try this: emulating elsewhere the success formula of Miami Dade College, a national model of accessible, affordable, high-quality education.

At a cost of $13,000 a year, a bachelor’s degree from Miami-Dade, as one educator put it, “costs less than a Honda.”

But here’s the affordability factor: School officials and staff work hard to ensure that meritorious yet financially strapped students don’t have to foot the tuition bill.

MDC is the nation’s largest recipient of Pell Grants. Funded at $5,500 a year per student, the grant covers the cost of tuition, which is a little less than $3,000 a year for a full timer. Perhaps most significantly, the college in 2010 established the American Dream Scholarship —with private funds — to cover the first two years of tuition for high school students graduating with a 3.0 grade-point average or higher.

“Only about 3 percent of our students rely on loans,” MDC President Eduardo Padrón told me Friday. “As a result, the overwhelming majority of our students graduate debt free.”

Add to these resources extensive dual enrollment programs offered by MDC — for free — to thousands of high school students.

Through two programs at the nationally top-ranked School for Advanced Studies at four campuses and the New World School of the Arts in downtown Miami, a large number of students graduate from high school with an associate’s degree.

In other words, what Scott is pushing as an innovative idea — affordable higher education — already exists without the kinds of cuts inherent in a proposal that would have an impact on the quality of education students receive at the college level.

And quality does matter.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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