Historians React to Proposal from Florida Task Force on State Higher Education Reform

Should it cost more for a degree in history than the sciences? A preliminary proposal from a task force, commissioned by Florida Governor Rick Scott offers a resounding “yes.” If their proposal goes into effect, it would allow public universities to charge undergraduates differing tuition rates depending on their major. The proposal offers to freeze tuition rates for majors in “specific high-skill, high demand (market determined strategic demand) degree programs,” in an effort to lure such students into the state. Meanwhile, for fields viewed as having less value—history among them—tuition would rise.

In reaction to the proposal, a committee of faculty in the University of Florida’s history department drafted a petition challenging some of the assumptions built into the proposal. As the panel’s proposal indicates, the notion of differential tuitions is under consideration in other parts of the country, as well. Members should consider the issues raised in the department’s petition, and carefully weigh how this kind of thinking might affect history and the humanities more generally in the future.

 

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  1. Richard J. Salvucci

    As someone who has spent 30 years in both history and economics, I’m trying to understand the logic behind the proposal. If a field is in high demand, and if the market is working, then the returns to study in that field should reflect the premium that a graduate earns. Why would you need a “pick-winners” policy that was engineered by the State Legislature? STEM fields are “mission-critical” to a market economy? Why should it be necessary to further subsidize study in them unless there is market failure? And if there is a market failure, wouldn’t it be more reasonable (or efficient) to address its source rather than blindly levy a tax on humanities education that can do nothing to address the underlying problem?

    If anything, these sorts of tuition differentials must be perverse. You’re charging less to provide training that undoubtedly costs more to produce? How do you propose to subsidize the difference? Will you tax the excess benefits that the graduates of STEM fields receive as a means of breaking even? I suspect not. Do you really want to be known as the state that taxes the “least skilled” to pay for the education of the ostensibly “most skilled?” Believe me, variations of that model have been tried. As far as I know, they didn’t work out too well. But you’d have to know something of recent history to realize that Governor Scott is anxiously searching for a blind alley. And history isn’t worth studying, apparently.

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  2. Christopher Fischer

    I thought current Republican orthodoxy was against picking winners and losers in this way.

    More seriously, this could profoundly damage student success. Many students begin in pre-professional or science programs, only to discover they don’t have the requisite desire or aptitude for said field. Will they be trapped in a failing major because they fear the financial consequences of switching to a more appropriate major? Or should they flame out in chemistry, when they really thought about moving into economics and spanish, just because it was going to cost too much? Students choose their initial majors often with too little information, and too little experience fo the actual field, to put financial incentives or constrains on their exploration of what they truly excel at.

    In short, this is a poorly thought out idea.

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