How Tuition Menu Could Lure Florida Students Into Math/Tech Careers

Nov 5, 2012

Under a higher education plan now developing in Florida, you’d pay a lot more for a standard liberal arts degree than for one in science or the technologies.

It's Gov. Rick Scott's way of encouraging people to study for high-demand, economy-building careers.

Tuition Idea: Should dancers pay more than engineers for their degrees?

As  Jordan Weissman writes in The Atlantic, a Scott task force proposal would freeze science, technology, engineering and mathematics tuitions while allowing those for the softer studies to rise under normal market influences.

But there may be problems with using pricing to influence career choices for state purposes:

Ensuring that taxpayers get the biggest bang for their buck is an admirable goal. So is encouraging students to think ahead about their careers. The question is whether staggering tuition among majors will actually accomplish either.

To believe that it will, you have to accept two notions: First, you need to take it on faith that the government is capable of divining which majors are going to be the most marketable year after year. Second, you need to believe that there are a large number of talented


who could hack it in these subjects, but are choosing easier majors instead. 

I'm not sure either of those assumptions are sound. 

With enough good data and clear judgment, Florida's legislature could theoretically figure out the types of students employers need and adjust tuition accordingly. But it would have to be nimble, because the job market for recent grads doesn't always shape up the way one would expect. 

There is a lot of catching up to do, according to the National Science Foundation. Florida's graduation rates in those challenging math/tech fields are dismal. A developing conclusion is that Florida should improve the performance of its high schools before pricing attainable degrees out of reach.