Education

Proposal would prevent tuition hikes at Florida graduate schools

Gov. Rick Scott has unveiled a new proposal that would prohibit universities from raising graduate school tuition after 2015. His office says the measure is necessary because the average graduate tuition rate for residents has jumped more than 12 percent since 2012.
Gov. Rick Scott has unveiled a new proposal that would prohibit universities from raising graduate school tuition after 2015. His office says the measure is necessary because the average graduate tuition rate for residents has jumped more than 12 percent since 2012. El Nuevo Herald

Last year, Republican Gov. Rick Scott made holding the line on college tuition a top priority.

This year, he’s turning his focus to graduate schools.

Scott has unveiled a new proposal that would prohibit universities from raising graduate school tuition after 2015. His office says the measure is necessary because the average graduate tuition rate for residents has jumped more than 12 percent since 2012.

At Florida law schools, the price tag for students has spiked more than 19 percent.

“Why does graduate school tuition continue to go up year after year?” Scott said Tuesday at an education summit hosted by former Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida’s Future. “We have to figure this out.”

Scott’s plan would also require universities to publish the price of textbooks and other education materials at least two weeks in advance of the registration period.

“You, as a student, should know what your instructional materials are going to cost,” he said. “You should know 14 days in advance.”

The governor said college affordability will be among his top priorities during the upcoming legislative session, which begins March 3. “This is very important to me because I know what it cost me to get through school,” he said.

During last year’s session, Scott championed a bill that prohibited universities from hiking undergraduate tuition above the annual rate set by the Legislature. (The proposal made an exception for the University of Florida and Florida State University — each are limited to a 6 percent increase.)

His latest pitch stands to encounter some push-back from some state universities. Law schools have historically been the cash cows of university systems.

The average tuition at graduate schools nationwide is about $30,000, according to the latest Department of Education figures.

State universities in Florida have the ability to set their own graduate tuition rates, which vary from institution to institution. In-state tuition at Florida International University's law school, for example, is $21,345, according to the university's website. Florida residents attending the University of Florida's Levin College of Law pay $22,231 in annual tuition.

The Board of Governors was waiting to comment on Scott’s plan until a formal bill was released, a spokeswoman said.

University of South Florida spokesman Adam Freeman also said it was too early to weigh in. Florida International University declined to comment.

But some lawmakers are already saying the idea has merit.

Rep. Erik Fresen, the Miami Republican who oversees the House education budget, said he was generally supportive of the measure. “To whatever extent the Legislature can create an environment of predictable affordability for higher education, I think that’s a good thing,” he said.

Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said his committee had not yet explored the details of the proposal. But Gaetz said he and Scott had “spoken directly about the substantial increases in cost of graduate education.”

“The fact is the new employment credential in higher-paid jobs is a master’s degree, and consequently the cost of a master’s degree becomes a critical issue for people who are in the workforce and are trying to get a better job, or become qualified to compete for a different job,” he said.

Gaetz acknowledged that the idea might not be popular among some universities.

“If we need more physicians, if we need more dentists, if we need more engineers, if there are critical shortages in the labor market, [then] we have to look at price,” he said. “And if it requires a master’s degree, then a master’s degree needs to be within reach of a working person.”

Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.

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