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Sunshine State News: Smart Investments in Higher Education Will Pay Off

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Increases in college tuition rates combined with reductions to federal and state level financial aid are making it harder for young Floridians to attend college without forcing many to accumulate increased student debt.

The Florida Resident Access Grant (FRAG) has been an important part of tuition equalization for eligible students in Florida for more than 30 years. It has strengthened the private not-for-profit educational institutions by making college more affordable for Florida resident students, giving them a wider range of postsecondary options.

The program has also saved state funds since a student choosing a private institution instead of a public option costs less for the taxpayers of Florida. These aspects were codified in Florida Statute in 1979, listing the multiple benefits of the FRAG program. However, when one takes into account statewide increases in college tuition and fees driven by inflation, funding for the FRAG program has decreased more than 40 percent since 2008. This dramatic drop has made higher education options more costly and for some, less attainable.

A new study commissioned by the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF) and conducted by The Washington Economics Group reveals the significant impact of the FRAG program on Florida’s economy. The newly released report shows that past reductions in the FRAG program have had negative impacts on our state’s economy.

As Floridians rally toward recovery from the global recession, it is important for our state to make sensible economic investments that will yield significant returns and contribute to the success of future generations. The data shown in the study not only highlights the valuable benefits that the FRAG program provides to Florida families, but also illustrates the short- and long-term economic consequences of funding reductions.

The study also highlighted the combined budgets of the ICUF institutions (31 in Florida), which total more than $5 billion and employ over 37,000 Floridians. When these expenditures are added to the local communities served by these institutions, it is easy to see the substantial financial impact higher education can have on our economy. In addition, ICUF campuses have bolstered our state’s construction industry by spending more than $1 billion on new building projects and renovations during the recession, adding much-needed jobs in this sector during tough economic times.

Florida needs to continue on a path of positive economic growth and job creation. To do this, we must make wise investments in higher education and in programs like FRAG, and reverse the trend of harmful reductions that lead to economic pitfalls. This year, the Florida Legislature has recognized the critical impact this program. and other aspects of higher education, has on our economy.

There are proposed FRAG funding increases in the current Senate and the House budgets. An increase will allow Florida’s students the opportunity to enhance their education without taking on as much of the long-term debt that adds to their financial burdens.

More than 35,000 students depended on the FRAG program to supplement their college expenses in 2011. As Florida’s independent colleges and universities prepare a highly skilled workforce to meet global marketplace demand, we are reminded that success for the FRAG program means more opportunities for Florida’s college-bound students.

Currently, almost three-quarters of the degrees granted by ICUF institutions are in the four areas of STEM, allied health, business and education. Recipients of FRAG dollars have the potential to graduate from college and pursue careers as active, contributing members of our communities. It is essential that Florida’s students are given access to higher education at a cost within their reach.

The Florida Resident Access Grant, and other similar programs, provides much more than financial aid to the students, it provides hope. And it results in helping to make Florida a better place for businesses to locate and expand, adding even more to our vibrant economy, which is growing each month. As Florida’s unemployment rate continues to drop, more and more college and university graduates will be able to stay and work in our great state, adding promise to the future of Florida.

Moore is the president and CEO of the Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida

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