In Florida, higher education funding per student is 13 percent below what it was in 2008, when adjusting for inflation. In fact, 44 states are in a similar boat. These are the findings of Unkept Promises: State Cuts to Higher Education Threaten Access and Equity, a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
During that same time period — 2008 to 2018 — tuition at Florida’s four-year public colleges and universities has increased by $2,360 (inflation adjusted). More data can be found on CBPP’s Florida fact sheet.
These numbers are deeply troubling, especially as low-income students and students of color are disproportionately affected by this cost shift. In its report, CBPP points out that while tuition rates have gone up, income has been weakly rising or stagnant.
It’s clear that state lawmakers must invest more in higher education, which would benefit both Florida students and communities across the state; Floridians with a college degree earn, on average, 2.5 times more per year than those with a high school diploma, according to the Florida College Access Network. In turn, higher income earners have more dollars to invest in their communities and spend at local businesses. Another benefit of making higher education more affordable? Regions with well-educated workforces are attractive to employers and crucial for state prosperity.
In order to increase investment in higher education, though, Florida legislators must be able to raise revenue and repeal current tax exemptions and loopholes that are ineffective and/or only benefit special interests. And that could become almost impossible under one of the proposed constitutional amendments on this year’s ballot. Amendment 5 would require a two-thirds (supermajority) vote of the state Legislature to raise state revenue, taxes and fees or eliminate tax breaks and loopholes.
The Florida Policy Institute, in series of policy briefs, cautioned that passage of Amendment 5 would likely result in deep cuts to multiple areas of the budget, including higher education. The State University System, Florida College System and school districts’ technical centers deliver 70 percent of associate and bachelor’s degrees and industry and professional certifications in Florida, based on Higher Education Coordinating Council (HECC) data. But meeting the Florida HECC goal of increasing the share of working-age residents with a high-quality degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025 would be hampered by a supermajority requirement, as lawmakers would struggle to reach the two-thirds vote threshold needed for revenue bills. Further, states with supermajority requirements have seen downgraded bond ratings and higher borrowing costs, which puts higher education construction and expansion at risk.