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Lower tuition may be sought for STEM majors

Senior Staff Writer

Published: Sunday, January 13, 2013

Updated: Sunday, January 13, 2013 21:01

STEM

Matthew Cavanagh/Central Florida Future

Ian Kutch, a graduate teaching assistant, performs an experiment in the Bio II Lab on campus. Science, technology, engineering and math majors may be looking at less tuition than other majors in the near future.

A task force created by Gov. Rick Scott has suggested lowering tuition for students majoring in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math as a result of growing costs in education across Florida’s state universities and a poor economy.

These majors, known as STEM majors, would not face tuition increase for the next three years. According to the Sun Sentinel, because of the cost of these courses, other non-STEM majors enrolled in Florida public universities would have to pay more in tuition. In 2009, the Florida Legislature allowed universities to annually start increasing costs by 15 percent until the state reached the average tuition cap. Since then, UCF has sought the full 15 percent tuition increase each year. The task force also suggested that the state should not seek to reach the national average. Instead, they recommend that each university increase tuition based of their own needs, according to the task force’s preliminary report. For the suggestion to become the standard for configuring tuition, the Board of Governors needs to approve it.

Chelsea Aldrich, a freshman nursing major, thought it was unfair to have different tuition rates for different fields of study.

“I don’t think that because I am a STEM major that I should pay less tuition." Aldrich said. "I am incredibly proud to be in the field that I am, but I also recognize that other majors are just as important as mine.”

Nicole Navaille, a junior studio art major, would suffer financially as a non-STEM major by paying a higher tuition.

“A higher tuition rate would make it harder for me to continue to pursue my degree. I would have to take fewer classes each semester, and thus it would take longer to finish my degree,” Navaille said.

 This new system of calculating tuition rates is meant to encourage more students to enter STEM fields once they graduate from college. According to the Sun Sentinel, the state needs STEM jobs to be filled. The more students learning to become part of the STEM field, the more push for a healthier job market.

Some disagree with this thought.

“The economy isn’t the machine it’s portrayed as; we need people who understand people, we need artists and writers because they know how to make consumers want things, and that is just important as knowing how to build products," Aldrich said. “I don’t think that making STEM majors cheaper will help the economy out in the long run.”

Paul Jarley, dean of UCF College of Business Administration, wrote about this issue on his blog. He said he thought changes to the tuition rate for STEM majors are not a short-term fix.

“Any strategy that increases the number of STEM students at Florida colleges is a long-term investment in the economy,” Jarley said. “It is not a short-term fix. First, the students need to get the education. This is a two to four year proposition, depending on whether we are talking about undergraduate or masters students.”

For Navaille, a lower tuition rate would not sway her decision of what major to study.

“I chose to pursue art in college because it is my life’s passion. STEM fields have never been my strong suit, and thus I would be doing myself a disservice by changing to something I’m not interested in, and would most likely switch out of,” Navaille said. “It would, however, influence me to think about changing universities, either in-state or out-of-state, depending on the participation of universities within the state.”

Aldrich said that the solution to getting more STEM students is to make the programs stronger.

“We should be attracting people by getting better STEM programs at schools, and lowering STEM tuition will actually hinder that," Aldrich said. "Having amateurs leaving our colleges and entering their fields won’t help anyone. The United States is an amazing place because we all have different talents, different focuses to offer to the table and we combine them to run our country.”

Jarley said the key is to attract out-of-state students to Florida STEM programs.

“If you want to attract more STEM students to Florida schools, then cut tuition rates for or provide targeted scholarships to out-of-state, STEM-ready students," Jarley said. "This would make studying STEM in Florida more attractive to students already interested and capable of pursuing these degrees.”

Jarley suggested that K-12 should prepare students better for STEM classes in college by making the field more desirable to students to enter.

“Longer term, the state needs to invest in K-12 education in ways that better prepare more Florida students for entry into college STEM programs," he said. "This would involve improving students’ math and science skills as well as giving students more exposure to career opportunities in STEM at an earlier age.”  

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