Scott ends second term close to affordability goal on tuition
Gov. Rick Scott wanted Florida to have the lowest public university tuition in the United States by the time he left office.
During his 2014 re-election campaign, he set goals to keep Florida universities competitive, including a $10,000 STEM degree program and the goal of raising public university rankings.
As his tenure as governor comes to a close, we checked Florida's public university tuition ranking. Did Florida make it to No. 1?
In 2014, Scott signed HB 851, which curbed the "tuition differential" universities would use to increase tuition, excluding the University of Florida and Florida State University. The same bill reduced UF and FSU's tuition differential increases from 15 percent to 6 percent.
From Scott's re-election campaign to his two-year halfway mark, Florida jumped from sixth to fourth in lowest average public four-year tuition and fees. According to the College Board, accounting for inflation, cost dropped from $6,813 in the 2013-14 academic year to $6,716 in 2015-16.
Besides the tuition differential curb, the Scott administration also expanded need-based financial aid and Bright Futures scholarships by covering 100 percent of tuition and fees for top-performing "academic scholars," Brittany Wise, the Florida Board of Governors spokeswoman, wrote in an email.
Academic scholars were also able to use Bright Futures for summer classes in 2018, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Scott's goal was within reach by 2016. Florida's average tuition and fees cost of $6,360 was behind three states: Montana at $6,351, New Mexico at $6,355 and Wyoming at $4,891.
The average cost continued to steadily decrease in the meantime. By the time school was in session in 2018, the average cost at a Florida university had dropped by $183.
In current dollars — which does not account for inflation — the average cost of tuition and fees at a four-year Florida university has been about $6,360 for the past four academic years, according to the College Board.
To this day, Wyoming clings onto the title as the cheapest state to go to a public institution, with an average four-year tuition of $5,400. Utah comes in third with $6,990.
In 2014, Scott promised the cheapest tuition in the nation. He wants Florida to be No. 1, but he'll have to settle for second place. Today, the difference between Wyoming and Florida's average costs for a four-year education is exactly $960.
While it is unlikely Florida's tuition costs will dip below Wyoming's before Scott is inaugurated as a U.S. senator, the state's low tuition ranking jumped from sixth to second place. Because the original promise is mostly or completely fulfilled, that's enough to get Scott a Promise Kept.
U.S. News and World Report, Best States Education Rankings, 2018
Florida Governor's Office, "Gov. Scott signs major higher education bill to permanently expand Bright Futures scholarships," March 11, 2018
Orlando Weekly, "Florida Students Get Boost from Changes in Bright Futures Scholarships," Aug. 6, 2018
Tampa Bay Times, "Lawmakers approve USF consolidation of Bright Futures expansion," March 5, 2018
Rick Scott wants Florida to have lowest public university tuition in nation
Gov. Rick Scott, who helped finance his own college education with the GI bill and working at a doughnut shop, wants to keep the cost of public college low for Floridians.
During his 2014 reelection campaign, he promised to "make Florida No. 1 in higher education affordability." Scott will hold a "Degrees to Jobs Summit" in Orlando on May 24-26 so we decided it was a good time to check in on his progress.
Florida already offers one of the lowest college public four-year educations in the nation. Although there are four states that offer a lower cost, three of them are literally just a few dollars less.
According to the College Board, Florida's public four-year public college/university average per year was $6,360 in 2015-16. The states that were lower were Montana at $6,351, New Mexico at $6,355 and Wyoming at $4,891.
Florida's tuition went from sixth lowest in the country in 2014-15 to fourth lowest in 2015-16, according to the College Board.
But for a few years, Florida had the lowest average public four-year tuition and fees from 2004-05 through 2007-08, according to the College Board.
In 2014 while running for reelection, Scott signed a bill curbing the "tuition differential" which allowed universities to tack on an extra increase in tuition. The bill signed by Scott got rid of tuition differential for all universities except for University of Florida and Florida State University, and for those two universities it dropped from an annual maximum of 15 percent to 6 percent. (The same bill also established in-state tuition for certain illegal immigrants who arrived here as children.)
Scott has also provided funding to "preeminent universities" and "emerging preeminent universities" and performance funding that has "enabled universities to improve in quality without tuition increases," Davis said.
Penn State higher education professor Roger Geiger said Florida deserves credit for keeping tuition low but offered a word of caution.
"If you want to be like the University of Wyoming, you could cut tuition; but if you want to have a distinguished research university, you would do well to keep it where it is," he said.
We will keep tabs on Florida's tuition to see if Scott achieves his goal of making the state No. 1 in affordability, but for now we rate this promise In the Works.
College Board, Tuition and fees by sector and state over time, 2016
Gov. Rick Scott, Degrees to Jobs summit, May 24-26
Florida Board of Governors, "2015‐16 Undergraduate Tuition & Fees by State Florida Ranks 48th," 2015-16
Miami Herald, "Gov. Rick Scott, lawmakers tangle with universities over tuition costs," March 12, 2014
PolitiFact Florida, "Florida agency's misleading attack on California's minimum wage hike," May 4, 2016
Interview, Jose Rios, College Board spokesman, May 5, 2016
Interview, Brittany Davis, Florida Board of Governors spokeswoman, May 10, 2016
Interview, Roger Geiger, Distinguished Professor of Education (Higher Education) and Senior Scientist at Penn State University, May 21, 2016