Florida College Administrators Pushing for “Market-Based” Tuition Seem Not to Understand Actual Markets

Lately Florida government has been a real font of bad higher education ideas, but this is one looks like the winner in terms of terrible proposals.

According to an article by David DeCamp in the Tampa Bay Times:

If Florida lawmakers demand more science and technology college graduates, University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft and other state university leaders have an idea of their own: Allow colleges to charge undergraduates a higher, market-based tuition for those more extensive courses.

Genshaft encouraged lawmakers to give schools more flexibility if they set performance benchmarks for institutions to meet.”If you have certain goals, you tell me your certain goals. Then you allow the flexibility for us to get there,” Genshaft said. “Very often we have a lot of constraints. We get there, we get there. But it isn’t the fastest route.”

Wait, do you want more science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) majors or not? What sort behavior does this proposal seem to encourage?

Genshaft quite beautifully illustrates why it’s not such a good idea to allow administrators at public institutions of higher learning to have “flexibility” in terms of tuition.

The governor of Florida understands that getting more people studying STEM disciplines could be very good for the state’s economy. Scott argues that Florida must produce 120,000 new STEM students in the next six years.

As Scott, a Republican, said back in October,

The State University System must lead the way in producing graduates who have degrees in STEM fields. Right now, less than 20 percent of the State University System’s graduates are expected to earn STEM degrees. [The state must do this] in order to meet future workforce demands, based on Agency for Workforce Innovation projected job field growth.

President Obama has made similar arguments. When introducing his federal plan to improve STEM education, he explained that “we know that the nation that out-educates us today will out-compete us tomorrow.”

But getting more people into the STEM fields isn’t easy. Frankly it’s not all that attractive a choice already; studying science and math is, well, difficult.

And now university administrators want to make it more expensive, too? Prices are a great way to influence behavior. If Florida wants to increase the number of people studying a subject, the best way is to make studying that subject more appealing. Making it more expensive is the sort of thing you’d do if you want to deter people from undertaking the activity.

Effective state policy would be to charge people more money to do things the state wants to discourage (see cigarette taxes) and less money for the things it wants to promote.

The best way to make a STEM major as attractive as possible would be the opposite policy. If the Sunshine State wants to encourage a lot of high school students to sign up for STEM majors, it really only makes a sense to change them less money.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer