Gov. Rick Scott, already on record as saying he wants to keep tuition rates down at Florida's 12 universities, issued a challenge Monday to the state's community colleges:
Offer four-year degrees for $10,000.
Scott, appearing Monday morning on News Channel 8 prior to an appearance at St. Petersburg College in Clearwater, said that rising tuition costs are preventing too many students from enrolling in universities and pursuing the "American dream."
"Think about your family," Scott said during an interview with WFLA-TV's Gayle Guyardo. "What you want is to make sure you can get a job, you want to make sure your child can get a great education so they can live the American dream, and we've got to keep the cost of living low.
"So today, what I'm doing is challenging our state colleges: Can they come up with $10,000 degrees?"
Florida's community colleges are now referred to as state colleges.
"You should be able to work and go to school and not end up with debt," Scott told News Channel 8. "Yet those degrees cost so much money and tuition is so high that that's not going to happen. So I put out this challenge to our state colleges."
The challenge comes on the heels of Scott telling the state Board of Governors that he considers tuition a "tax" and noted that a majority of Floridians earn less than $50,000 a year. The board oversees Florida's 12 public universities.
On Monday, Scott reiterated that tuition costs – which cause students to incur massive amounts of debt – are too prohibitive.
Scott made his proposal in the form of a challenge before an audience of elected officials and college and community leaders at St. Petersburg College.
He said he was making the challenge to help ensure that students can get good jobs coming out of school.
The 28 state colleges in recent years have begun offering a limited number of four-year degrees, but the bulk of their students are in two-year programs. Most of Florida's bachelor's degrees are produced by the public universities. The four-year tuition there is about $24,000.
Universities, through several years of budget cuts, have used tuition hikes to make up the difference. State lawmakers this past year cut funding by $300 million. University presidents who gathered at the Board of Governors meeting bemoaned the cuts, saying it was hurting efforts to repair labs or keep professors from leaving the state.
Florida's tuition and fees average $6,140 a year for undergraduate residents, below the national average.
Scott told News Channel 8 that state colleges and universities can continue to look at "efficiencies" within the system while reducing costs to students.
"My goal is that we really think about how we can reduce the overall cost of higher education," Scott said. "If you're in business, your customer expects you to lower prices every year and figure out efficient ways of doing things.
"We have to have the same expectation of our state colleges and universities and say, 'Look, can you come up with these $10,000 degrees, and then hopefully we can figure out a way.' We'll start with a few and continue to expand."
Scott's challenge comes just three weeks after his task force on State Higher Education Reform recommended that Florida's public universities be allowed to increase tuition rates that are among the lowest in the nation.