This week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis unveiled the “Get There Faster” initiative, which aims to address challenges imposed by the pandemic and to restore Florida’s workforce by improving access to technical education courses, postsecondary credentials, and work-based learning programs. The initiative unleashes $50 million in funding for technical skills preparation in K-12 schools and an additional $25 million for postsecondary workforce initiatives for adult residents with or without a high school diploma. According to the governor, the new program will “accelerate career pathways for K-12 and post-secondary students that result in high-value certifications, credentials, and outcomes to drive Florida’s economic recovery.” Most importantly, however, the program creates and promotes an alternative path for students who cannot afford the inordinate tuition prices of traditional universities.
From 1985 to 2018, the average price of a college education increased by almost 500%, more than doubling the rate of inflation over that period. Prestigious institutions, such as Yale and Harvard, impose over $50,000 in costs and related fees on their students, which makes attending an Ivy League School an unattainable goal for many of America’s children. Even students who chose to stay in-state and attend a public school face over $10,000 in expenses each year. The meteoric rise in tuition rates can be explained by a decrease in state funding for education, which caused the majority of colleges and universities to shift to a for-profit model.
In 1980, for example, 79% of total revenue at state universities came from the government. In 2019, that percentage had fallen to 55%, meaning that colleges now rely more heavily on tuition to stay afloat. As a result, enrollment in traditional universities has consistently declined over the past ten years. According to estimates from the National Student Clearinghouse, the number of degree-seeking students fell 2.5% in 2020 alone, and that number is expected to continue falling with the move toward virtual education as a result of COVID-19.
Despite the drop in enrollment rates, individuals with only a high school diploma earn $32,000 less annually than those with a four year degree. Disparate access to higher education leads to further disparities in the professional world, widening the gap between the privileged and the disadvantaged in the future.
If other states hope to avoid the inequitable effects of our broken higher education system, they should follow Florida’s lead and introduce programs to help students and adults find rewarding careers without taking on the crippling debt that comes from attending a four-year college. Not only does DeSantis’s legislation create alternate educational opportunities for students who may not have the means to attend college, but it also provides necessary funding for resources to augment their learning experience.
For example, the initiative helps cover the cost of tutoring, job placement services, and financial literacy workshops, which aid students far beyond completion of the program. Furthermore, “Get There Faster” helps relieve the financial burden experienced by participants through free or reduced-price transportation. With the value of a four year degree diminishing each year, states must place renewed focus on career and technical education programs in an effort to improve the quality of life for all residents.