The Obama administration is working to make college more affordable. The Florida legislature is working to make it less affordable. Who’s likely to win here?

Florida state legislators have recently proposed a bill allowing the University of Florida and other state universities to set their own tuition. This sort of thing, while increasingly popular across the country, is a terrible idea.

According to an article by Kim Wilmath in the Miami Herald:

The University of Florida and Florida State University could soon have the power to set higher tuition rates than the state’s other 11 universities — a flexibility they have been seeking for years.

Under a proposal that sailed through a Senate committee last week and heads to the House Tuesday, top-tier research universities that meet 11 out of 14 benchmarks would be allowed to charge what lawmakers are calling “market-rate” tuition.

So basically if Florida colleges can demonstrate that they’re good, effective schools (apparently the University of Florida and Florida States are the schools currently meeting 12 benchmarks), they’ll get the power to charge students higher tuition.

See the reason many state universities have tuition set by the legislature is so that tuition is kept affordable for the citizens of the state. The universities themselves, if left to their own devices, hike tuition a lot, (that’s why they want that “flexibility”).

Middle class students who attend the universities then have to take out more loans to attend such schools. Students do this, in part, because the flagship state university is usually still the most affordable good college to attend. But this can only result for problems for students.

The greater problem here is that the reason state universities are so eager to hike tuition is that they’re getting less money from the states than they used to. The responsible way for legislatures to fix this problem would be to provide more money for the universities, not to write laws helping universities take more money from students.

Currently the Obama administration is working to prevent colleges from making tuition unaffordable. This is working in the opposite direction.

“Market based” has nothing to do with this. Market-based means more expensive. Public universities are supposed to be cheap. That’s why we have them.

As I’ve pointed out before, tuition inflation comes from the declining funding for state universities, and the way these institutions spend money unwisely. Good policy would try and prevent that; bad policy would make it worse.

The simplest, and most essential step to keep tuition down, is to not allow state universities to set their own tuition. If they can raise tuition, they have no incentive to keep costs down. [Image via]

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