Florida

Putting Education Reform To The Test

Student Group Asks Gov. Rick Scott To Veto Tuition Bill

Jewel Samad / Getty Images

College debt is a major theme among the Occupy Wall Street movement protests, such as this one in Washington, D.C.

University of Florida senior Andrew Hecht understands the bind in which university president Bernie Machen finds himself.

The legislature has cut funding for higher education for several years — and another $36.5 million for the next school year.

The money schools depend on to renovate and expand campus facilities is drying up.

And Machen is trying to maintain Florida’s ranking and reputation as a “public ivy” university.

But Hecht, and his colleagues from the Gators College Access Network, say they have to oppose a bill Machen supports which would allow the University of Florida and Florida State University to set their own tuition at market rates.

Gators College Access Network is holding a rally in Gainesville today to urge Gov. Rick Scott to veto the bill. Hecht said the bill will make it more difficult for students to pay for and complete school. The goal of Gators College Access Network is to promote policies that ensure 60 percent of Florida adults will have earned a college degree by 2025.

“The state has really forgotten the student,” Hecht said, noting dual cuts to university funding and Bright Futures scholarships. “Raising tuition is not going to help us get to that goal.”

A recent report from the Lumina Foundation — which sponsors the parent organization of Gators College Access Network — says Florida is falling behind in the number of college graduates needed to meet projected job market demands.

The Florida College Access Network also provides support to StateImpact Florida.

Florida colleges and universities are among the nation’s most affordable, and the University of Florida costs less than universities of comparable quality.

Machen has said raising tuition is imperative to the university. Machen has outlined a plan that would set a flat-rate tuition that would increase the cost to students, but lock in the price for four years.

“We’re hoping against hope that that becomes a long-term reality for us,” Machen told The Alligator newspaper of the bill allowing tuition increases. “This budget situation is the bleakest in the eight years that I’ve been here.”

The university estimates raising tuition would yield an additional $25 million to $30 million.

But that could mean fewer students

While Hecht and Gators College Access Network are trying to kill the proposal, he doesn’t fault Machen.

“I truly believe he has the best interests of students in mind,” Hecht said. “He has to answer the question ‘How am I going to fill that (budget) gap?’”

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