Higher ed bill proposes university mergers and scholarship cuts

Florida Polytechnic University was created as an independent university in 2012 -- the newest of the 12 institutions in the State University System of Florida and the state's only university focuses solely on STEM education. (Photo by Ziggymarley01 via Wikimedia Commons)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Two state universities could be merged with the University of Florida and Florida State University and sweeping changes to scholarships for private universities are part of a controversial higher education package passed by a House committee Wednesday.

New College, in Sarasota, would be merged with FSU and Florida Polytechnic University, in Lakeland, with UF.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Randy Fine, said it comes down to cost.

“We could educate 10 students at one of our other schools in many of these cases for what we are spending at these schools,” Fine said.

Florida Polytechnic argued the higher cost comes with a higher return on investment.

“Three times better than the average university state system,” Florida Polytechnic Trustee Robert Stork said.

New College did not speak on the legislation.

The bill would also cut financial aid to as many as 30,000 private university students.

It would limit the $2,800 a semester EASE grant to only those who qualify for financial assistance.

“The idea is: Is it a good use of tens of millions of dollars, which is what it costs, to subsidize wealthy kids to go to private schools?” Fine asked.

But students like Brenda Guess who attends Keiser University in Sarasota said they fall in the middle.

“There’s a gap for the need-based and then there’s the families that currently are above that threshold. We’re there because we’re actually working. So don’t take that away from us,” Guess said.

While both the mergers and the EASE grant cuts received flack from Republicans and Democrats alike, the bill passed and is now headed to the House floor.

One part of the bill supported by everyone on the committee would allow students who receive the Medallion Bright Futures Scholarship have 100% tuition covered at state or community colleges.

If they maintain a 3.5 GPA, they would then qualify for 100% tuition at a state university as well.