Higher education and the government’s involvement in it have faced much scrutiny over the past several decades as American students graduate with crippling and prohibitive debt and no job prospects. These criticisms are valid, as approximately 2.4 million Floridians hold $94.3 billion in student loan debt.
There is a serious need to debate student debt and the reputation of our educational institutions devolving into “degree mills.” But for now, we have an opportunity—in Florida and across the country—to help guide future generations toward high-demand fields. Rather than provide loans that treat all fields equally, we are introducing education price cuts, sometimes referred to as “high-demand, low-cost (hi-low) scholarships.” Public investment in education should prime our students for success, not mere subsistence.
Due to our country’s preference for “white collar” work, “blue-collar” industries have struggled to find skilled workers. This has resulted in several fields with more job openings than workers available to fill them. These aren’t minimum wage positions—companies across Florida have found themselves unable to fill open positions with starting salaries as high as $75,000 a year with benefits—well above the median annual wage.
With the growing costs of the pandemic, educating our students to fill in-demand jobs is imperative, especially now that Florida companies have resumed hiring. Businesses have struggled enough and do not need to further contend with an ill-prepared workforce; businesses need workers prepared for the jobs that exist, not workers with unsuitable degrees and training. In Florida, the most in-demand jobs include software engineers, marketing and health care professionals, and other positions that typically require a bachelor’s degree. Higher education pricing should encourage our young people to seek careers in the kinds of jobs that are rewarding, well-compensated, and fill a need in Florida’s economy.
This bill is efficient and dynamic—it will not support a stagnant list of jobs that exist only on the day the bill is passed. Rather, it will follow an evolving list from the Board of Governors in the following categories: Science, technology, engineering, math, education, health care, and other undersupplied jobs.
While the benefit to students and businesses alike are clear, hi-low scholarships will naturally benefit the Florida economy. Overall student loan debt will decrease as students will have a clearer path to consistent gainful employment. Open positions will be filled as hi-lo scholarships react in real-time to the most in-demand Florida business needs, helping Florida continue its speedy recovery. Our unemployment rate has steadily declined since November but remains higher than before the pandemic, so we must enact prudent policies to return to a real Floridian normalcy—economic flourishing.
Homing in on in-demand Florida jobs with these targeted price cuts, we can ensure Florida remains an economic powerhouse of the United States and continues to attract young students and businesses alike. If Florida rewards students for pursuing jobs that fill a market need, we will continue to possess one of the most in-demand education systems in the country. This bill is the way forward for students, businesses, and for Florida.
I am an engineer. I love my career, but I understand that the financial cost of higher education is daunting to many people considering that path—and rightly so. I want this path open to more Floridians, without the terror of a future weighed down by oppressive debt. The way to support students and businesses, while maintaining Florida’s position as a powerhouse state is to change how we invest in public education. It’s time to start using hi-low scholarships. It’s time to build up the students of today for the jobs of tomorrow.