The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Florida Tries Higher Ed Experiment

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution points us to an interesting development in higher-education taking place in Florida. Concerned by the growing student-debt bubble and the number of liberal-arts graduates who can’t find jobs, Governor Rick Scott is considering a plan to guide more students into the more technical STEM fields, where job opportunities are relatively abundant. As the Huffington Post reports, a new task force has recommended lowering tuition for STEM students in an effort to draw more students into the field:

Highly distinguished universities, such as the University of Florida and Florida State University, could charge more than others. Tuition would be lower for students pursuing degrees most needed for Florida’s job market, including ones in science, technology, engineering and math, collectively known as the STEM fields.

The committee is recommending no tuition increases for them in the next three years.

But to pay for that, students in fields such as psychology, political science, anthropology, and performing arts could pay more because they have fewer job prospects in the state.

This is indeed an interesting development, although it has a number of serious potential drawbacks and is not yet clear whether it will even work. It is certainly true that students making their decision about what to study in college should take their financial futures into account, and STEM degrees do on average offer a better return on investment than many other degrees. If you are going into serious debt to finance a college education, it would be good to know that you’ll be able to find a well-paying job somewhere down the road of your career.

Yet this plan doesn’t solve the larger problem: tuition in most fields is simply too high, and colleges need to find ways to cut costs. Via Meadia would prefer to see a plan that addresses the skyrocketing costs of college and the burden of college debt, rather than plans that shift that burden around.

Nonetheless, this is a clear sign that politicians are beginning to think creatively about some of the problems of higher ed. We’ll keep a close eye on these plans as they develop.

Published on October 26, 2012 3:26 pm