A report thrown together by a Florida task force on education has proposed that more in-demand and higher paid majors (science, engineering, math, and tech) should pay less for tuition than the less in-demand majors (art, history, English, etc.).
You can read the whole proposal here, and marvel at the delightfully cheesy stock photography included for no reason.
Now before anyone in the comments turns this into a science vs. humanities spitting contest, please remember that we are not anti-science. Far from it. We’re not anti-anything, other than really bad ideas. And this is one of those really bad ideas.
Now, loyal readers will remember that I’ve used this blog to object to the misguided good intentions of a Florida educational task force once before. This post is going to read a bit like that one again. Once again, the state has a problem, in this case, not enough people entering fields that really boost the state’s economy. Once again, a short-sighted solution doesn’t seem to take into account the way people actually think.
The proposal would institute a tuition freeze for the fields the Florida government decided are the most valuable. So while studio art degrees go up and up year after year, engineering degrees would stay where they are. “Most valuable” here means “will lead to jobs that make the most money.” This is valuable to the state, of course, because higher earners will pay more in taxes.
Now before you claim there’s some sort of anti-right brain bias, know that the task force chair suggested Florida State could theoretically lobby to freeze the tuition for creative writing and film as well, since there’s been some success getting people into the entertainment industry so far. So if your school has celebrity alumni, than congratulations, you can pay less for taking the same classes they did.
The proposal seems to operate on this assumption: if certain degrees are cheaper, more people will get those degrees. But this makes no sense. These degrees are for higher paying jobs. If a higher salary for life doesn’t convince someone to work in a certain field, why would paying slightly less for four years make any difference at all?
The proposal almost makes sense for out-of-state students. Let’s say Florida freezes tuition for biology students. A biology student considering his/her options might notice that Florida has the cheapest programs. But I don’t see tuition being that big of a factor for out-of-state students. If it was, they wouldn’t be looking at more expensive out-of-state programs to begin with.
This proposal doesn’t seem to work very well as an incentive. However, it does wonders to discourage students of the less “valuable” majors. Pay more to earn less. Gotta feel great to get such a vote of confidence from the state.
If Florida wants to encourage certain majors, they simply need to increase funding to those programs. Build better programs. There aren’t any shortcuts.
Or maybe I’m just being too sensitive to the feelings of liberal arts majors. It’s true we need to do more to encourage the study of sciences in this country. At least Florida is trying. Maybe the guy who studied English and art in college is just touchy about hearing his degree be devalued.
Let us know what you think in the comments below.