This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.
The timing could not be worse for state elected officials to give Florida's 11 universities permission for a big hike in tuition rates, right? The entire country is reeling from the worst recession since the Great Depression. Yet support is growing in the Legislature for proposed bills that would allow state universities to raise undergraduate tuition rates by as much as 15 percent a year.
Are state lawmakers so out of touch that they would inflict economic pain on people reeling from record unemployment and a fading quality of life? Actually, no. It may be counter-intuitive, but on this issue, lawmakers are on the right track. Florida can't wait any longer to begin strengthening its universities. In fact, the recession is causing vast numbers of people to return to classrooms to improve skills, get advanced degrees and compete in a changed world.
Yes, it is tough to ask Floridians to shoulder more of the burden for improving schools when so many people are suffering. However, Floridians would suffer more over the long haul without the proposed investments in education. Consider this: Florida students pay $3,900 a year for tuition and fees compared to the national average of $6,500. The bills propose to catch up, but the spending isn't about keeping up with the Joneses.
The bills specify that 70 percent of the new tuition revenues be used for real educational improvements. The other 30 percent goes to financial aid for needy students. The money has to be spent to improve a long list of things, including course offerings, graduation rates and lower student/faculty ratios. The best professors would get more pay. The number of students taught directly by faculty would be increased. None of the money could be used to pay graduate-teaching assistants.
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