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President Donald R. Eastman III

Op Ed Articles

Save Higher Education Dollars

Published in the St. Petersburg Times
January 11, 2003, p. 15A.

Recent newspaper articles citing Florida's growing shortage of college-level seats for its students fail to identify the most obvious and least expensive option for addressing at least part of this very real need: The private colleges and universities of Florida. These institutions, which already enroll 30% of the state's college students, demonstrate their value every day by providing a viable alternative to their highly subsidized public competition -- and they save Floridians millions of dollars each year while doing so.

Here's how: Every Florida student enrolled in a public university costs Florida taxpayers $9,200 a year in subsidy; however, each Florida student enrolled in one of the state's private colleges and universities receives only $2,600, which is provided via the Florida Resident Assistance Grant, or FRAG. The private institutions themselves often offer such considerable financial aid that it costs little more to attend them than the publics (even while private schools typically offer personalized teaching and mentoring, particularly in the residential colleges). The private colleges and universities of the state clearly provide a bargain for Florida taxpayers, and that bargain could easily be enhanced by increasing the incentive for the private colleges to enroll additional numbers of Florida residents and, at the same time, increasing the incentive for Florida students to enroll in the private institutions. Every dollar added to the FRAG program does just this.

Other advantages to utilizing more fully Florida's private colleges and universities extend well beyond economic efficiencies and savings. Institutions of higher education are extremely complex social organizations and are very difficult (as well as very expensive) to start from scratch. Developing a faculty, a student body, a staff, and a physical plant that work together to produce a college experience of real quality and long-term impact is an extremely difficult task. That's the reason so many new colleges fail, or, at the very least, often take decades to establish themselves as both fiscally and educationally viable.

Recognizing this, some states have long depended on their private colleges to carry much of the higher education load and have subsidized those institutions in lieu of creating new public institutions, thereby both saving money and helping create some of the nation's best private colleges. North Carolina, California, Minnesota and Connecticut, for example, each provide more than three times the support Florida provides for an in-state student attending an in-state private college. Most Southern states, having fewer private colleges to choose from, have been less active in this direction, but Florida already has 27 private colleges and universities. These colleges are a resource Florida cannot afford to overlook as it searches for new ways to provide fiscally responsible higher education to its citizens.