The morning started out by my number two sidekick, Daniel Bennett, begging me to read about the "funky" (Daniel's word) new higher education proposal of Governor Charlie Crist in Florida. I followed my marching orders (sometimes I wonder who is working for whom at CCAP), and was glad that I did.
The Governor said:
"Let individual institutions have the discretion of raising tuition rates up to 15 percent above the state-set base rate. Let their boards of trustees hire and fire top officials, approve or disapprove budgets, and set long term priorities. Let the state coordinating board, the Board of Governors, approve the proposed individual institutional tuition supplements, long term strategic plans of individual schools, new programs at individual schools, etc."There are parts of the idea that I like. Philosophically, and also driven by empirical observation, I believe decentralized control of institutions and decision-making works best. Diversity is a hallmark of U.S. higher education, and it has served us well. As the French say, "vive la difference!" I also hate price controls, and believe institutions should have some price flexibility. But a decent case can be made that the Board of Governors should be able to say "no" if five schools decide when they want a new Ph.D. program in history, when arguably none is needed.
But what this really masks is a move to raise tuition fees, a lot, in a politically acceptable way. It is a move to meet budget realities (which are really tough in Florida) by giving the universities, in part, the easy way out. It probably works to forestall some needed radical cost-reducing reforms that would occur in the absence of greater tuition monies. And it works to perpetuate an academic arms raise driven by spending more rather than by charging less.
Having said all of this, Florida is a low tuition state. Students SHOULD pay a large portion (arguably, 100 percent) of the cost of their education. CCAP is NOT against tuition-based funding of schools - au contraire, we welcome it. Indeed, if the University of Florida wanted to raise its tuition fee to $20,000 with the understanding they will lose 50 cents of state subsidy per student for every dollar they raise tuition fees, I would let them do it. It would be a way of moving towards privatization, greater student sensitivity to price, and greater consumer sovereignty, with respect to universities.
At the same time, however, Governor Crist, who I respect, is NOT directly pushing schools to cost-saving approaches - use of new technologies, easing inter-institutional transfer of credit, etc., or at least not in this proposal. While he talks about raising retention and graduation rates, he says nothing about finding out if the students really are learning anything, which, if you believe the Intercollegiate Studies Institute National Civic Literacy tests results, is a highly questionable proposition. What do the kids learn? He should propose finding the answer to THAT question.