Creativity, flexibility required for Gov. Scott's tuition challenge, SCF officials say

Consensus at State College of Florida: Creativity, flexibility would be required

kbergen@bradenton.comDecember 2, 2012 

BRADENTON -- Gov. Rick Scott's challenge to Florida community and state colleges Monday circulated quickly through the education world. By Thursday, the state was advertising that more than half of the system's schools had supported Scott's initiative to develop a $10,000 bachelor's degree program.

The State College of Florida has yet to join them -- at least publicly. School officials have just embarked on a search for a new interim president and a permanent leader for the college.

"My personal opinion, which I have not discussed with my fellow trustees, is that we should look into it and see what programs we could make it happen in," Board Chairman Carlos Beruff said Thursday.

But making it happen isn't as simple as lowering tuition for one baccalaureate program, he said. This challenge will require flexibility from the state on tuition statutes or creativity from the schools that want to implement it.

State statutes require colleges to charge the same tuition rate for all classes. Even though nursing is more expensive to teach than English, for example, students are charged the same state-mandated tuition rate.

Boards of trustees are given the power to increase or decrease that rate within specific parameters, Donald Bowman, vice-president of educational and student services, confirmed Friday. But they have to keep that rate uniform for all programs.

"Until the legislation changes," Beruff said, "you can't charge a lower hourly rate for one topic over the other."

That's true, said Chancellor of the Florida College System Randy Hanna. A state college could not offer a $10,000 baccalaureate degree for just one program if school officials chose to solely lower tuition to do so.

"(The state) was aware of

this when they started it," Hanna said. "If schools are going to lower tuition, we are going to have to have a statutory amendment."

But Hanna says there are plenty of other avenues a school could take to make one degree less expensive. "This was a challenge to try to establish something," Hanna said. "There are other ways to do it besides a tuition change."

Hanna said schools could look into additional revenue or outside funds to offset the costs of making one degree $10,000. They could experiment with block tuition or dual-enrollment students who can utilize past credits. They could provide scholarships for some students who maintain certain GPAs.

SCF officials said Friday they were awaiting the return of interim president Carol Probstfeld, who attended the system's Council of Presidents in Orlando. "With this news about the $10,000 challenge, we knew it would be a topic there," said Kathy Walker, school spokeswoman, who expected Probstfeld to return with more information about how other schools are considering implementing the challenge. "We're still waiting for some more details for how this could work."

That doesn't mean school officials haven't already started brainstorming, she said. Already, school officials are discussing how to make degrees cheaper without compromising the instruction of programs that are required by law to be connected to the local workforce.

Part of that is looking to affordability measures SCF has already established, she said. Programs such as the collegiate charter school that graduates high school students with associate degrees and tuition scholarships to Florida Gulf Coast University. Or the current high school dual enrollment program.

"If a student in high school were to enroll and do well in our dual enrollment classes, they could knock out a year at SCF and take $3,000 off the cost of their education," Walker said. "If you look at it that way, we already offer a $10,000 baccalaureate degree."

Bowman said it would be a mistake for SCF to assume that its only option would be to find or raise money.

"I think there could be a misconception that there has to be new revenue to be entrepreneurial," Bowman said. "We're doing the best we can to brainstorm internally what's the best for the student and the taxpayer."

As schools begin to pave the way, Hanna expects a change in tuition rate statutes to be on the table this legislative session.

While Walker couldn't say when SCF might officially announce a desire to participate in the challenge, she felt certain that the decision didn't depend on the naming of a new president. Leadership dedicated to finding a solution is already in place, she said.

Bowman agreed.

"You cannot stand still in an area of change. We'll do our best to respond," Bowman said. "We never stand still here."

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