TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott went to college with one goal: make money.
He didn’t join a fraternity or become active in student government. He took only the classes he needed for his degree and not a credit more.
Married when he attended community college, he paid for a bachelor’s degree at the University of Missouri-Kansas City with help from the G.I. Bill. And he worked full time in a donut shop he purchased with a friend.
The boy who grew up wanting to be rich knew from the start he wanted to become an attorney.
For Scott, college was a means to an end. Now he wants Florida colleges and universities to have the same razor-sharp focus — rein in tuition costs and create cheaper degrees that can get graduates jobs.
It’s an approach to higher education that has put Scott at odds with educators who argue dollars and cents aren’t the only factors determining the worth of a degree.
But Scott is convinced his ideas are best for the bottom lines of both the state and students.
And he’s got his personal history to prove it.
Cost is cornerstone
As a kid, Scott’s family didn’t have much. He vowed to become an adult who didn’t have to worry about money.
Becoming a lawyer, however, meant earning degrees his family could not afford. So he figured out a way to pay for it himself.
“I think junior college cost $200 a semester and the university cost $255 a semester. ... I could work 40 hours a week and be able to pay for my school,” said Scott, 60.
He spent a couple of years in the Navy as a radar technician, using his spare time to pass correspondence courses that earned credit toward an associate’s degree. That military experience made him eligible for financial aid through the G.I. Bill.
He returned home and attended the University of Missouri-Kansas City to earn a bachelor’s degree in 1975. But he also worked full time running a donut shop and set aside money that, along with his federal financial aid, paid for a law degree from Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
As governor, cost is now the cornerstone of Scott’s higher education policy. He worries that tuition increases are putting college out of reach for working-class families like his.
“My wife and I put ourselves through college. We would not have been able to do it with tuition as high as it is today,” Scott said in a recent weekly radio address. “We must make our colleges more affordable for Florida families.”
He called on universities to halt tuition increases and vetoed a bill last year that would have allowed top-tier schools like the University of Florida and Florida State University to charge whatever they wanted in tuition.
More recently, state colleges have lined up to meet Scott’s challenge to create bachelor’s programs that cost $10,000 or less.
Universities have told Scott they are willing to hold the line on tuition, but only if the state agrees to contribute additional funding.
“I actually believe what Gov. Scott is saying about keeping tuition low is great,” said FSU President Eric Barron. “But that means then that the state has to fund the universities if we’re going to maintain the quality that the citizens in the state of Florida deserve.”
Pushing ‘practical’ degrees
But it’s not just the cost of degrees.