In Florida, The Idea of Different Tuition for Different Degrees

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.

A task force in Florida put together by Gov. Rick Scott has suggested that colleges in the state should require students to pay different tuition depending on what degree they pursue. Basically, the more practical degrees in science and engineering would be cheaper than an arts or humanities degree. You can instantly see the problems with this.

Students who pursue arts degrees will graduate with higher debt loads and enter a job market that won’t pay them the money they need to pay off their education loans. Science and engineering programs are more expensive to run because they must keep up to date with technology, yet students will be paying less for these programs, so these programs will require subsidies. Tuition (and tuition subsidies) will be tied to the Florida job market, but not all students who attend college in Florida stay in Florida after college.

I understand that there are practical reasons for the task force to want to revamp the higher education system according to the market, but it seems very unfair that if you are a good musician, or dancer, or writer, or anthropologist, or whatever else isn’t in high demand, that you have to pay much more to get your degree. There’s something here to consider, but they need to work out some more kinks on this idea to convince me that this is the best idea ever. [via]


31 Comments / Post A Comment

swirrlygrrl (#2,398)

This is interesting – not good, in my opinion, but interesting. When I was an undergrad in Alberta, my uni tried to introduce differential tuition, but they proposed STEM pay MORE, because the costs of providing those classes was higher (labs, smaller student/teacher ratios, etc. versus the pack ’em in and lecture humanities and social sciences). It failed while I was there, but I’m not sure the idea actually went away.

Nick (#1,548)

This idea is based purely on the unsubstantiated assumption that tuition (of all things) is the main obstacle that’s keeping people from pursuing STEM degrees, which is pretty improbable and unrealistic.

Sincerely, Jane (#1,588)

@Nick Especially since the difference in earning potential for STEM vs. humanities isn’t doing it already. Seems unlikely that money would be a huge motivator for people inclined to pursue arts degrees in the first place.

EM (#1,012)

There was an excellent article in the October issue Walrus issue about the misalignment between popular post-secondary studies (humanities especially) and the needs of the economy that was really interesting and touched on this. I’m torn because while I feel like the arts shouldn’t be exclusively reserved for those who can pay to study them and not care about job outcomes, I also think that if your goal of going to university is to get a job, and the purpose of university (nowadays, anyway) is to produce skilled adults who can contribute meaningfully to society and the economy, then there needs to be a better match between what people study and what gaps in the job market need to be filled.

oiseau (#1,830)

@Michelle Agree.

Also, I wonder what the # of students/major ratios are for US schools, and how those compare to other countries, and the reasons behind those difference, if there are any?

@Michelle I tend to think that if we want job training programs, we should set up job training programs. Not try to turn the academy into a job training program.

@oiseau In most other countries education is much less expensive, which changes the equation a lot. So if you want to study art and then end up not being able to find a great job, it doesn’t ruin your life. Thus making STEM subjects more accessible would not mean restricting the humanities only to the wealthy. Likewise, doctors and lawyers do not face any immense pressure to do something soul-crushing just to earn the six-figure income to pay back their six-figure loans. If you want to be a country GP and not perform vaginoplasties on rich ladies, you won’t make quite as much but you won’t ruin your credit either.

My understanding of France is that in high school, the most prestigious specialty (regardless of what you want to do) is math. Then, the goal is usually to get into Sciences Po -> ENA (mostly free but highly competitive) and become a bureaucrat, or go to a business school — France has the best in Europe — many of which are private, expensive, and ALSO highly competitive. Next in line, in terms of prestige, is to go to engineering school, which does not necessarily mean you are destined for what an American would consider a traditional engineering career. Then law and medicine, and then various “liberal arts” subjects at the normal-people universities. Also, the French model typically involves more than half of the class failing out after freshman year.

England is somewhat more like the US: you either go to Oxbridge and become/continue to be an elite toff, go to a normal uni and study a STEM subject and have a decent shot at a good job, or go to a normal uni and study semiotics or anthropology or whatever and fight it out in a tough job market.

@stuffisthings In Germany I think people pretty much just keep going to school forever. The whole economy is supported by like 1,000 people who keep an eye on the Volkswagen assembly robots.

EM (#1,012)

@stuffisthings I agree that universities shouldn’t be job training programs, but I feel like the reality is that they are. I bet that most people who go to university are there because undergrad degrees are a pre-requisite for most jobs, and certainly all middle-class, upward-mobility sorts of jobs.

I definitely think that some European countries have a better system of tiered schools, with more selective, way more affordable academic programs, and other post-secondary programs for applied fields and trades.

@Michelle Absolutely. Fortunately, the US does have a great system of community colleges that are most of the way there. It would be nice if they had less of a stigma and were seen more as “the place you go if you want to get a job,” while universities are “the place you go if you want to engage in serious study of ______” (or enter one of the professions). I wouldn’t mind seeing universities also be a lot more selective, but cheaper or free for the students they do admit. Imagine if next year the United States produced 1/10 the number of graduates in the arts, and they all graduated debt free. How different would their lives, and ours, be as a result? Hell, if we kept doing it like that, some of them might even get tenure one day.

oiseau (#1,830)

@stuffisthings So… what is the difference in your mind between “job” and “profession”? That is a very fine (and slightly classist?) line to draw.

I would like to see hard data on the ratios of students in majors internationally. I am really curious about it now. And how do liberal arts majors equivalents in other countries get their careers kicked off, anyway? Is university required? off to do some research

@oiseau “The professions” traditionally refers to law, engineering, and medicine — careers which require specialized advanced study and certification by a professional body.

I am curious to see what your research uncovers, I have only my own set of anecdata and no time at work to dig deeper!

deepomega (#22)

@stuffisthings Completely agree with this, except I’d say the expectations for what universities are is often totally fucked up. How many people do you know who went to college because they were “supposed” to, or who went so they could hang out and drink for four years? I know a lot like that!

@deepomega Yeah there is a big problem that a lot of jobs really just want somebody who has a bachelor’s degree, any degree — they don’t particularly care about the skills involved. It’s going to take a lot of work in supporting secondary education and community colleges before “high school diploma + associates degree” has the same job market cachet as “spent four years drinking beer out of a funnel near buildings designed to look like Oxford.”

oiseau (#1,830)

@stuffisthings Update: 1 hour of light and distracted googling later, the only data I am able to find is on the US and Canada. Maybe I’ll just jot this idea down in my book of Future Hypothetical Dissertation Ideas in Economics and come back to it later with an academic library behind me.

In any case, in the US and Canada, business is the most popular degree, in the US followed by “social sciences & history”, “health professions”, and education, and in Canada followed by “social sciences & law”, engineering & technology, liberal arts & humanities, and comp sci & IT. (lump categories not mine)

So… little to draw from there. oh well, I will probably come back to it sometime if I ever remember.

@oiseau Here is a comparison of the top 10 degrees in the UK in 1996 and 2006. Page 248 of this Eurostat publication also has pretty comprehensive data on Europe, broken down by country. You may be fairly unsurprised to learn that “In 2006 graduates in ‘social sciences, business and law’ represented over 35 % of all graduates in Europe,
followed by the graduates in ‘health and welfare’ with 14.4 % and ‘engineering’ and ‘humanities’ with a little
more than 12 %.” But there are some interesting nuggets buried in the (really awfully designed) chart, such as the fact that Italy and France graduate more engineers than Germany.

@stuffisthings No but seriously whoever designed the charts in that report needs to go back to school and get a qualification in designing charts. Blech.

NoReally (#45)

I’d rather see them offer companies in those industries a little tax incentive to sponsor scholarships in those fields?

@NoReally yes this times a million (or billion, or times whatever these companies’ profits are).

MissMushkila (#1,044)

I feel like it already worked this way at my school informally. The school offered greater financial aid, both need and merit, to students in STEM majors. Those students also get all of the new facilities. Technically, tuition is the same for everyone. But my science and engineering friends had much more significant aid and way better tools and classrooms. My philosophy and poli sci courses were often overfull and held in an ancient classroom that had been slated to be rebuilt THIRTY YEARS earlier. There often weren’t enough seats for the students so you would have to sit in the aisles if you didn’t get to class 5-10 minutes early.

Nice to hear my alma mater described as “highly distinguished” rather than as as a disdained football rival, for once.

Oh also most other countries that have suggested something like this do it the other way around — the more your potential earnings, the MORE you pay for your degree. That’s generally how I understand “the market” works. Then again I am not as knowledgeable about the “business world” as Rick Scott, having never defrauded Medicare for hundreds of millions of dollars.

julebsorry (#1,572)

This idea sucks.

One of the big reasons that businesses are clamoring for more STEM majors is not, contrary to popular belief, that they have tons of well-paying jobs they can’t fill. (source: Instead, business are sick of the relatively small pool of qualified US applicants that can, due to supply vs. demand, demand commensurately higher salaries. Businesses are intentionally lobbying to increase the pool of STEM majors in order to drive wages in that field downward, b/c they feel entitled to pay smaller salaries for these currently high-paying jobs. Don’t believe me? My husband, a software engineer, has personally sat in many management symposiums where the topic of discussion was “how can we pay engineers less?” (often with an implication that they’re currently overpaid due to their relatively low supply and high demand). Increasing the pool of candidates is a popular option. Mind you, the businesses holding these symposia were all extremely profitable; but, they still felt entitled to lower-wage workers to provide them with the high-tech skills they needed.

So, if we introduce this plan, then the colleges, and subsequently taxpayers (and liberal arts students), will be footing the bill to supply STEM businesses with more candidates than they need, allowing them to offer lower wages. Why would we do this? Why not encourage STEM businesses to provide their own training programs, so that they’re at least paying for the outcome they want? There’s absolutely no reason for taxpayers (for state schools) or other students/alumni (for private schools) to give these businesses a handout.

deepomega (#22)

@julebsorry Does that mean you think we should graduate fewer humanities students to drive up wages for those fields?

julebsorry (#1,572)

@deepomega Not the same market. Humanities degrees can apply to a lot of different professions – most STEM degrees, by nature, are specialized to one particular skill/industry.

rahel@twitter (#2,490)

@deepomega when you put it that way, it sounds terrible, but current the flood of under graduate degrees puts them on par with what a high school diploma was 30 years ago. I realize that many people still start/never graduate college but yeah, increased selectivity would tend to lead to less people graduating and eventually lead to higher demand/wages.

deepomega (#22)

@julebsorry Haha. I disagree entirely. I think part of the problem is the idea that humanities degrees are universally applicable and STEM degrees aren’t. E.g. I have a degree in computer science, and I use it every day even though I never ever program anything.

ThatJenn (#916)

“You can instantly see the problems with this.” The first problem was that Rick Scott opened his mouth.

…sorry, I just work at a Florida university and am REALLY tired of that guy and his ideas.

Claire (#2,540)

We do this in Australia. Nursing degrees are dirt cheap because there’s such a shortage and humanities or law degrees are really expensive. We have a really different system though where all our uni loans come from the government (interest free!) and are paid off by being deducted from your tax once you start earning a certain amount ($60k+ I think).

TARDIStime (#1,633)

We do this in Australia sort of.
But nursing degrees are not actually that cheap. We also have an oversupply of nurses that LOOKS like a shortage due to a lack of funding and positions available in hospitals (I know so many nurses who are qualified and able, but who can’t find work because there aren’t any funded full-time positions available in hospitals – loads of underemployment/casual shifts in the industry), it’s not a shortage of nurses because there aren’t any nurses, there are loads.

The interest on FEE-HELP does exist, and it does compound (the positive is that if you pay upfront, you get 20% off your loan).
The base wage for beginning to pay back your loan goes up every year and this year was increased to $50K (will probably go up to $52-$53K next financial year). The payments are non-negotiable, always 9% of your income after tax – not deducted from your tax, but from your taxable income. Eg. you pay 20% income tax, as well as your 9% towards the FEE-HELP debt = nearly 30% of your income taken before it hits your bank account (pretty sure the tax rate for $50K+ is more like 25-28% though).
Rather than it being taken out of your tax, it is taken alongside your tax, if that makes sense.
Not saying that Australia’s system is bad by any means (it sound pretty utopian compared to Mike Dang’s Sallie May experiences), but there have been some very recent decisions regarding TAFE that make me quite ragey, and our system is by no means perfect either.

Markham (#1,862)

This idea needs to be heavily massaged…..

I was a double engineering major, I got bored and started a tech company, did mediocre at best and turned that into a career in consulting in the tech field.

I’ve never had issues paying my student loans, a couple of times I had to defer or missed payments when I was out of work but for the most part it hasn’t been an issue.

Meaning: if you have the aptitude and desire (especially if you attend a state school) student debt won’t be a big issue.

I’d say make those degrees more expensive if anything, making it cheaper just sort of helps people who don’t need it, it’s not as if people are not studying engineering because it currently costs more.

Flip side: let’s see a particular degree like teaching, nursing, criminal justice, etc., is needed by the community? You can get cheaper tuition PROVIDED you give back.

Meaning: you can get a dirt cheap nursing degree IF you agree to work at a clinic serving low income people for 3-5 years.

As for humanities……

…maybe a mixture of realism and cheaper tuition?

People should be free to study whatever they want, but, they need to recognize that for certain fields the employment prospects are rather dim and so they may be shouldering debt they will struggle with.

I have no problems with making humanities degrees cheaper, but someone needs to talk to these kids when they’re Freshman and reset their expectations. I have friends who majored in humanities who were upset that they couldn’t find a high paying job like the finance and engineering majors, and I remember thinking: “how did you not know? I intentionally didn’t pick your major specifically to avoid the problem you’re having right now”

I think we need to help people make more informed choices, or at least have a fall back. It’s amazing to me that we love to tell athletes to get a degree that they can get a job with because they won’t make it to the NFL, but we don’t tell people interested in the arts to double major or minor in something they can use so they don’t end up at Starbucks.

I want it to be easier for artists, but I also want there to be more information so people can understand the future impact of their choices.

In my family (Caribbean immigrants) we were pretty much just given the choice of: Premed, Nursing, Engineering/Sciences, Finance and Accounting.

Wanting to major in anything else (unless it was in addition to the above) would just get you in trouble.

I expressed wanting to major in history of sociology when I was 14 and heard about it for the next four years, I wound up a double engineering major who studies history in his spare time.

Financially, it was the right choice.

Going back I probably would’ve done a double in creative writing and engineering, or Finance and Writing, but I still pick the $ degree.

ImASadGiraffe (#982)

@Markham They kind of do this with some jobs by offering student loan forgiveness – there is Public Service forgiveness, teachers can get loan forgiveness for working in underserved areas, etc.

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