Few people view public higher education as a welfare program. In its design, however, it is like any other “collectivist” program in which people participate involuntarily; individual benefits in no way reflect costs; subsidized prices distort the decision-making process; and collective public political consensus is substituted for the private judgment of individuals.
William G. Stuart,
“Toward a Market in Higher Education,” The Freeman, December 1993
It doesn’t matter how much Florida Gov. Rick Scott sticks to his election campaign promises — making Florida the top state for business in America; accountability at every level of state government; lower taxes; lower cost of government; fewer regulations that irrationally inhibit economic growth.
The sad truth is he is trying to move too many people’s cheese, and they don’t like it.
Last week’s confrontation of Scott and the state university system’s board of governors over proposed tuition hikes was yet another vivid example of the wide gap in reality that exists between the statists and Scott’s agenda for taxpayers.
Once again, the statist establishment cannot believe Florida’s governor would not support higher taxes and fees to raise more money for Florida’s universities. As usual, they trotted out the cliches that Florida charges less per student than other states. As if that is the primary measurement by which Florida and its universities should be judged.
Perhaps it should be a point of pride that Florida’s universities manage to do more with less. For instance, among the states in the South, Florida has the highest percentage of college students (35%) who graduate with baccalaureate degrees in only three years.
But for the establishment statists, what Scott articulated as his top five goals for Florida universities is an anathema. So many of the elite have the notion that taxpayers should pay willingly whatever it takes to create universities that are on the cutting edge of scientific research or to have wide-ranging liberal arts programs whose courses in multiculturalism have no limits on bizarreness and little practical usefulness.
But let’s be realistic. What business do you know that, in the midst of this nation’s economic malaise, would have the gall to announce that it is increasing its prices 15% or 17% as Florida’s universities sought to do?
Their justification was to make up for the tax dollars state legislators declined to allocate to the universities. Never mind what Gov. Scott reminded — that tuition rates have risen 71% over the past four years.
Now put those tuition increases against this backdrop: Increasing data are showing that politicians’ efforts to make taxpayer-subsidized college accessible to everyone are a huge waste. Acclaimed Ohio University professor Richard Vedder wrote in author Charles Murray’s book, “Real Education” in 2008, “The number going to college exceeds the number capable of mastering higher levels of intellectual inquiry. This leads to colleges to alter their missions, watering down the intellectual content of what they do.” Economist Walter Williams reports 45% of college freshmen require remedial courses.
Taken altogether — the incessant rising cost of college tuitions; the role of politicians (incluing Scott and all legislators) in the monopoly, state-run education system; and the declining levels of student achievement at all levels — you should be able to see the real picture. As economist Williams put it: “Primary and secondary education is in shambles.”
Even though Gov. Scott is trying to bring more accountability and affordability to all of Florida’s public education, the governor is following the traditional path to nowhere. We wish he (and everyone else) would acknowledge what our opening quotation states. Under its current rubric, the university system is a form of state-controlled welfare. As such, it — and all public education — is destined to perpetual failure, mediocrity at best.
Everyone knows by now public welfare is not the path to prosperity. Dare we suggest the obvious alternative?
GOV. SCOTT’S UNIVERSITY GOALS
Florida Gov. Rick Scott last week issued the following statements regarding tuition increases and his goals for Florida’s universities:
“I’m disappointed to see the Board of Governors’ decision on tuition increases today. Tuition rates have risen 71% over the past four years and graduates are facing unprecedented levels of debt. We can’t continue on this path. On Tuesday, I addressed the board and outlined five goals Florida’s university system should aspire to that would give us an edge over other states for job creation:
1. Be No. 1 in university affordability.
2. Be No. 1 for graduates finding jobs in their fields of study.
3. Be No. 1 in the percentage of students receiving STEM degrees.
4. Have Florida university graduates be ranked No. 1 in preparation for the workforce, as named by Florida employers.
5. Be the No. 1 place where taxpayers feel they are getting a good return on their investment in higher education.
“It is my priority to keep the cost of living low for Floridians and have an education system that produces the most competitive, highly skilled workforce in the world. And I expect our universities and the Board of Governors to seek those same goals.”