STEM students may face tuition increase
Published: Sunday, January 29, 2012
Updated: Sunday, January 29, 2012 17:01
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Gov. Rick Scott has been consistently open about his quest for science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates. However, recent comments made at a House hearing on higher education indicated that students interested in those STEM degrees might have to start paying a higher price.
There was call for more flexibility in tuition, which could lead to the possibility of raising the price sooner for some degrees than others.
According to a press release from the News Service of Florida, Bernie Machen, president of the University of Florida, and Eric Barron, president of Florida State University, said that STEM degrees require more funding due the expensive equipment and the highly sought after staff jobs. This could pose a problem seeing as Florida already has some of the lowest tuition rates in the country, according to university officials.
"If I changed instantly the average public university tuition rates in this country, I could double every STEM program at Florida State University and have money left over," Barron said.
Though the push for STEM programs has been receiving attention just recently, the increase in those areas started before Scott took office a year ago.
A report done by the State University System shows a 27 percent increase in undergraduate STEM enrollment and a 20 percent increase at the graduate level from fall 2006 to fall 2010.
UCF President John C. Hitt said the school has focused on STEM, having one of the nation's largest engineering schools, according to an article from Tampa Bay Online. However, he was also aware that STEM graduates have had complaints from employers saying that they lack the writing, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills typically taught in liberal arts and general studies classes.
"Just getting the information is the beginning," Hitt said in the article. "If you don't help students understand how to process it, how to analyze it, how to pick the good from the bad or the strong from the weak, you're not really serving them very well."
However, Barron said that he was aware that specializing too much could lead some universities to lose programs that help them keep a good reputation. He also said to keep in mind that it is a common trend for students to frequently change their majors.
"We want to make sure we don't disadvantage students that all of a sudden become really excited about something," Barron said.
Though STEM is a high priority for the Education Committee, any major changes that are currently being discussed won't take place until 2013. However, House Speaker Dean Cannon hinted at the hearing that some minor adjustments could be made as early as this year.
Katherine Betta, communications director at the Office of the Speaker, would only say that the Education Committee is in the process of compiling and reviewing feedback from university presidents.
"Speaker Cannon firmly believes that the future of Florida's economy is rooted in a dynamic, competitive state university system, and he is committed to continuing the discussion of various proposals to achieve that goal," Betta said.
It's likely that if there were an increase in tuition there would be an increase in students receiving financial aid as well.
Inez Ford, associate director of the Office of Student Financial Assistance, reported that the percentage of undergraduates receiving financial aid is 84 percent. The majority of the freshman class, 96 percent, is receiving assistance as well.
Melissa Lopez, a freshman engineering major planning to work in the industrial field, said that there are more opportunities for graduates in her job market. However, the increased tuition could make it hard for some students to earn a degree.
"People from lower income families might not be able to afford a degree in engineering," Lopez said, "even if they have the smarts."