Florida’s Great Cost Shift: How Higher Education Cuts Undermine Its Future Middle Class

Just as a postsecondary education has become essential for getting a decent job and entering the middle class, it has become financially out of reach for many of America’s young people. State support for higher education has decreased considerably over the past twenty years, while financial aid policies have increasingly abandoned students with the greatest financial need. As a result students and their families now pay—or borrow—a lot more for a college degree that benefits all of us.

The Great Cost Shift: How Higher Education Cuts Undermine the Future Middle Class, a new report by the national policy center Demos, examines how state disinvestment in public higher education over the past two decades has shifted costs to students and their families. The report outlines how such disinvestment has occurred alongside rapidly rising enrollments and demographic shifts that are yielding more economically, racially, and ethnically diverse student bodies. This fact sheet, produced jointly with the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy at Florida International University, highlights Florida’s funding for higher education trends over the last twenty years.


Overall, Florida’s higher education system measures up well to other states. Tuition at both the state’s two-year and four-year institutions is relatively low and graduation rates—particularly at two- year schools—are relatively high. What these numbers do not capture, however, are the effects of the recent, dramatic erosion of state support for higher education, an erosion that sharply contrasts with the steadily rising support of the previous 15 years. Florida’s higher education system just experienced another year of budget cuts after already having suffered a 22 percent decline in funding between FY 2007 and FY 2012. The effects of these funding cuts are already beginning to be felt.

This year the University of South Florida is poised to join public universities in at least 20 other states where tuition revenue will cover a higher percentage of educational costs than state support.

It is future students, however, who will bear the brunt of recent funding cuts. Since yearly tuition increases at the state’s universities are capped at 15 percent, basic budgetary math dictates that schools will likely have to cut back on faculty or services to balance their budgets, diminishing the quality of the education for future enrollees. The cuts have also led to another round of tuition increases at or near the rate cap, shifting an ever-greater portion of costs to families who, despite Florida’s relatively-low tuition costs, already pay an average of one-fifth of their income to attend a two-year college in the state.

The cost of this inevitable rise in tuition will not just be borne by students and their families, but by the state itself. Rising tuitions put Florida at risk of a shortage of college graduates necessary to fill the state’s jobs of the future. According to projections, 59 percent of all jobs in Florida will require postsecondary education by 2018, but only 43 percent of Floridians are projected to hold a college degree by 2025, leaving the state with a significant “skills gap.” Cutting funding for higher education not only compromises future prospects for Florida’s youth, but threatens the state’s overall economic growth and competitiveness as well.

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—Viany Orozco.


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