Higher rates for non-STEM students bound to backfire

By Tom Auxter | Guest columnist, November 30, 2012, Orlando Sentinel

Gov. Rick Scott says he wants more majors in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — the STEM fields. His Blue Ribbon Task Force on Higher Education Reform recently recommended achieving this goal by charging non-STEM students more. The task force report called this “differentiated tuition.”

This proposal opens the door to charging much higher tuition for non-STEM students, who are now almost two-thirds of students. Although this new tuition scheme has little chance of producing additional STEM majors, it could easily damage the quality of the core curriculum.

The Legislature has already undercut Florida’s essential degree programs in several ways:

1. Budget reductions: Over the past five years, the Legislature cut about a third of the universities’ budgets. Before these cuts, Florida was already among the bottom five states for higher education funding per capita. Many university departments were already operating with a skeleton staff. Now almost all departments have barely enough faculty to teach core degree-requirement courses.

2. Pushing toward privatization: The universities are now under pressure to seek private funding for programs. But while private funds are available for the professional schools, such funds are scarce for the rest of the university. So while law, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, etc. can find some private money, the core curriculum that undergraduates depend on goes begging. And over-reliance on privatization can undermine the mission of the universities to create and share knowledge for the public good.

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The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily the positions of UFF-UF.