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Tuition Fees Based on Your Major?

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What is going on in Florida? As a former resident of the Sunshine State and a proud graduate of the University of Florida, I was dismayed to read what the state is proposing regarding higher education.  According to this article, “Pricing Out The Humanities” in Inside Higher Ed, the governor of Florida has appointed a Blue Ribbon Task Force on State Higher Education Reform and their recommendations are quite surprising, such as charging more tuition for certain majors.

Quoting the task force’s language on differential tuition, petition co-creator Norman Goda said, “The theory is that students in ‘non-strategic majors,’ by paying higher tuition, will help subsidize students in the ‘strategic’ majors, thus creating a greater demand for the targeted programs and more graduates from these programs, as well.””

History professors at the University of Florida have responded by starting a petition against this recommendation.

According to this article, “the model endorsed by the task force would aim to hold in-state tuition rates for “high-skill, high-wage, high-demand (market determined strategic demand) degree programs” steady for at least three years, making them potentially more attractive to students than other majors. Although the task force report doesn’t officially recommend strategic majors, it names several possible categories previously identified by the Florida university system’s Board of Governors, including 111 in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); 28 programs in globalization; and 21 in the health professions. (Such degree programs currently account for 37 percent of degrees granted within the system, with a 21 percent increase during the past four years). Core humanities disciplines did not make the list.”

While I agree that we should encourage students to major in STEM programs, and we certainly need more engineers, not every student is cut out for these majors. I, for one, was not. You could make tuition free and I still could not be an engineering major; my brain just doesn’t work that way. And, as someone married to an electrical engineer and mother of a mechanical engineer, I see the difference.  Studying the humanities prepares students in a different way and I am against making them second class studies or penalizing those who want to major in this area. And, as I have pointed out in previous blogs, many people who major in one of the subjects that come under the heading humanities go on to earn graduate degrees so comparing job placement after a bachelor’s degree is not a fair comparison.

The article states that Governor Rick Scott said he wants to run Florida’s education system more like a business. I couldn’t disagree more.

Janet Rosier

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2 Responses

  1. Janet Rosier says:

    Excellent points, Nancy. At many colleges, there are extra fees for certain majors based on specific labs and equipment. One hopes that this is clear from the outset. However, what you describe in VA colleges does seem unusual. I wonder if students know that the second half of their college will cost more than the first half?

    I just don’t see how Florida can charge tuition based on a major. What happens when students change their majors? A refund for transferring in to STEM? An extra fee for transferring out?

  2. Hi Janet-
    Interestingly, the way fees work at several VA universities is exactly the opposite (http://www.examiner.com/article/uva-board-approves-modest-tuition-hike-but-looks-to-fees-for-additional-revenue). And based on the rationale given for the fees, it seems plausible that Engineering costs more because of equipment and Business costs more because of professors.

    UVa and others are quietly imposing a tuition differential for students wishing to go into those fields. It’s not immoral, but I’m not sure everyone understands how the fees work. AND for residents of Virginia, I think the extra tuition comes as a bit of a surprise especially since it’s applied across the board–same for in-state and out-of-state. Note that scholarships are not always bumped up to cover those last two years which cost thousands extra.

    I think you’re going to see more and more tinkering with tuitions and fees especially in the state systems. Great article. The issue of “stealth” revenue enhancement might make an interesting panel discussion one day. Thanks.

    Nancy Griesemer, College Explorations