The TaxWatch Research Blog

The TaxWatch Research Blog is a forum where our research staff can address topics and issues in a short format. Keep an eye on this space during Legislative Session for frequent posts making sense of the activity at the Capitol. 

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Florida's Higher Ed System Leads the Way

In a recent letter, Governor Scott acknowledged the recognition of Florida’s higher education system by U.S. News and World Report as number one overall in the U.S. Florida also ranked second in terms of affordability, and third in terms of two-year college graduation rates.

One significant reason for this success has been Florida’s use of performance funding, where an institution’s funding is tied to a set of clear and simple metrics, such as graduations rates, degrees awarded, average costs per degree, the percentage of graduates who get jobs after graduating, and their median wages. The State University System implemented its performance funding model four years ago. The Florida College System implemented a similar performance funding model two years ago. The Governor points out in his letter that “[S]tudents are graduating faster with degrees that lead to great careers and are not burdened with decades of debt…”

Florida also received high marks (rank #11) in low debt at graduation. Statewide average debt levels for the Class of 2015 range from $18,850 (Utah) to $36,101 (New Hampshire). The share of graduates with debt ranges from 41 percent (Utah) to 76 percent (New Hampshire). Florida is considered to be a “low-debt” state, ranking 43rd among the states with an average debt level of $23,379 and 53 percent of graduates with debt.

These rankings come at a time when the Florida House and Senate are about $500 million apart on their fiscal year 2017-18 spending plans for higher education. The House spending plan cuts higher education funding by more than $100 million, while the Senate is proposing an increase of more than $300 million for state universities, as well as more money for scholarships. Neither the House nor Senate proposes an increase in tuition, which has not increased during the past three years.

To remain one of the nation’s most affordable higher education systems, Governor Scott’s "Finish in Four, Save More" proposal will, if implemented, freeze tuition and fees at state colleges and universities, and cut fees for Florida’s graduate assistants. 

Florida educators and policy makers have worked hard to achieve a number one ranking for higher education, and there is still more work to be done. It is essential that the state’s final spending plan adequately fund those measures necessary to maintain that ranking. We’ve worked too hard to be number two.

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