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Nancy Smith

Rick Scott Did Not -- Repeat, Did Not -- Raise University Tuition

November 29, 2011 - 6:00pm

While it's fashionable to blame Rick Scott for everything bad but cancer, the governor absolutely, positively had nothing to do with a tuition increase at any Florida university.

Not even one.

Tuition increases are not line-item dollar amounts. Therefore, Scott had no constitutional authority to veto the 8 percent increase the Legislature approved during the 2011 session.

The annual 15 percent tuition increases now taking effect were signed into law in 2007 by Gov. Charlie Crist and subsequently approved by the Board of Governors.

That's Charlie Crist, not Rick Scott.

In 2007 Scott was working as a venture capitalist -- the principal in a health-care-related firm called If he had anything to do with prying open Crist's head and planting the idea of a university tuition increase, I promise you, that would go down for the ages as one impressive feat of shapeshifting.

Nevertheless, media outlets throughout Florida pretend they know better and continue to point to the recent round of tuition increases as Rick Scott accomplishments. Examples:

  • A story on the liberal blog site ThinkProgress begins, "Throughout this week Florida college students will hold rallies to protest Governor Rick Scott's ... proposed tuition hikes."
  • Another liberal blog site, Beach Peanuts, says this: "Due to tuition hikes and proposed changes in college programs and curriculum initiated by Governor Rick Scott recently, students from at least seven colleges in Florida plan protests this week ..."
  • From the Tampa Tribune, an indirect hit but a hit nevertheless: "University students across Florida are planning to rally this week to protest tuition hikes and proposed cuts to the Bright Futures scholarship. Governor Rick Scott is leading a 'relentless attack on higher education' ..."

The bill Charlie Crist signed in 2007 allowed the University of Florida and Florida State University to charge a fee of up to 40 percent of the schools' established tuition rates. The University of South Florida was permitted to charge another 30 percent of its tuition.

What is faintly amusing here is that the students themselves show little understanding of history in the area about which they're protesting.

For example, when the governing board for the state university system approved a 7 percent tuition increase in June -- adding to the 8 percent the Legislature had already approved -- the only university governor to vote against it was the student representative from New College, Michael Long. Long said he was reflecting earlier votes by student body presidents at Florida Gulf Coast University and the University of North Florida.

Perhaps Long didn't realize that in 2007, Frank Harrison fully supported the tuition hike and wrote an impassioned op-ed column in the St. Petersburg Times saying so. Harrison was the outgoing student government president at the University of South Florida and a former member of the USF board of trustees and the state Board of Governors.

In fact, the whole of the Florida Student Association cheered mightily for the 2007 tuition increase, including Crist's signature on the bill. Just four years ago, folks. Four years ago the students were on board.

Quite frankly, even with the increases, the Florida university system boasts some of the lowest tuitions in the country.

At the University of Central Florida in Orlando and the University of Florida in Gainesville, tuition this year based on 30 hours was $5,020; next year it will rise to $5,700. At Florida State in Tallahassee, tuition this year was $5,198; next year it increases to $5,978.

Let's be honest.

Right now the university elite finds Rick Scott about as popular as a wet dog at a parlor social. Explaining why is easy.

Because he had the audacity to question whether state university system grads are primed and ready to find a good job based on their education.

Because he believes higher education could do a better job of calibrating its focus with the 21st century job market's.

Because he sent a letter to presidents and trustees of the states 11 public universities, listing seven sets of questions.

Because he posted the salaries of state university employees on his public records website.

Because he wants to draft a higher education plan of his own.

Brian Burgess, the governor's communications director, said this: "Governor Scott is working closely with Chancellor (Frank) Brogan and the Board of Governors, as well as individual universities to enact student-centered reforms, and the governor welcomes an open dialogue with students, parents, professors, and administrators."

If you don't believe that for a minute, if you're a status quo kind of person, if you think the state university system doesn't need a dust-off or you think it deserves a free pass -- if you plain don't like Gov. Rick Scott anyway -- that's all your prerogative. It's OK.

What isn't OK is abandoning the bounds of objectivity and truth and piling on criticism when that criticism is utterly false.Rick Scott didn't raise college tuition. He couldn't. He doesn't have the authority. Let's not keep repeating a lie.

This is an opinion column: Reach Nancy Smith at or at (850) 727-0859.

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nancy smith

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