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The Major Challenge

Florida's new proposed plan is to push market-based degrees, many of which are science and technology based, in hopes to fill jobs in those markets.

Elizabeth Hoyt

December 11, 2012

The Major Challenge
In hopes to steer undergraduate students towards degrees deemed more “job-friendly”, Florida is proposing that its 12 state universities reduce tuition for select majors. Florida’s Governor Scott, along with Republican lawmakers, began a task-force on higher education that now hopes to freeze tuition rates for students with majors in “strategic areas.” The “strategic areas” are supposedly based on supply and demand but are quite clearly centered on science, health and technology.

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This plan would, for example, allow an undergraduate student majoring in engineering to pay less than a student at the same level going for a degree in anthropology, even though science and technology classes at universities are often among the most expensive. The tuition gap from the students with lesser tuition costs is expected to be made up through state financing or, potentially, through private-public partnerships. The qualifying majors are chosen based on based on where there is demand in the job market.

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As a result, the governor’s task force encourages universities to evaluate the value of their degrees in this economy. Plainly stated, a degree that’s likely to result in a high-paying job has a higher value to the economy. The task force believes that this value will serve the public and be the best return on investment possible for the people of Florida. Greater affordability and market-based degrees will also force the higher education system to change and adapt to the economic times, Republican lawmakers say.

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Needless to say, not everyone agrees with this plan of action. The Vice Chairman of Florida’s State Board of Education, Roberto Martinez, believes the new plan is “a very bad idea,” as stated in a letter to the governor. History professors, as well as liberal arts supporters are weighing in as well, criticizing the market-based degrees in an organized protest petition because the new plan would drastically reduce the number of liberal arts and humanities majors and likely lead to reduced funding for those departments as well. They feel that the market-based degrees diminish the value of a humanities-based degree, which can be applied to many different career paths. Additionally, Governor Scott has challenged Florida’s 28 colleges–formerly known as community colleges– to reduce some of their four-year degree costs to $10k, which is a reduction of more than $3k. Several Florida schools have already jumped on the bandwagon; bringing new students into their doors and helping others finish degrees they couldn't afford previously. Businesses are praising Governor Scott, who is a businessman turned politician himself. All of these initiatives come as results of a drop in financing of Florida’s colleges and universities within the past five years–funding reportedly declined 26 percent per student from 2006-2011 (State Higher Education Executive Officers)–one of the most drastic within the country, with another $300 million reduction in the 2011-2012 year. While some cuts make universities more efficient, too many reductions cause universities to lose staff members or diminish the quality of education at institutions. In the end, the all decisions on Florida’s universities and policies are made by the Board of Governors along with the governor, and Legislature (which Republicans currently control in Florida). Florida’s next legislative session begins in March, which is likely to prioritize university financing and restructuring.

How do you feel about legislators pushing market-based degrees?

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