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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Editor’s Note: The Alligator wrote an article where President Ben Sasse refuted anonymous professor claims to change tuition costs. Read it here.

In his State of the University Address, UF President Ben Sasse said something that should concern every student who receives Bright Futures or other financial aid: “We lose money on every student.”

In my view, this is not a tragic boon like Sasse is implying. A public service, which I view a public university as a type of, should not be run with profit in mind.

In particular, he criticized that many students get a refund from UF on excess financial aid. He derisively called UF “writ[ing] them a check,” perhaps revealing either ignorance or malice. 

“We have an economic model that is very different than every other Top 30 school,” he said in reference to price controls on tuition.

Other universities, by contrast, take money from tuition and put it into research and other efforts, Sasse said.

In my previous column about Sasse’s plans for UF, I gave very tepid critiques of his AI policies. His general vision was good, but the specifics were blurry. 

I am angrier, by contrast, with his comments on our economic model. He directly criticized Bright Futures, seeing it as a tax-payer subsidization of our students. 

I would begin by reminding Sasse that the money comes chiefly from the Florida Lottery. I would continue by noting that those same lottery dollars primarily come from lower-income families. That money, in turn, gives those families a greater chance to have their children go to UF.

Bright Futures is not always dolled out equally, as reported in the Orlando Sentinel. This is something Sasse can and should be lobbying to fix in Tallahassee. His critiques in the address, however, concede an ignorance of the benefits felt by so many students.

I once fought alongside fellow students against a bill by Senator Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala. Senate Bill 86, in 2021 proposed to limit funding to students based on their major. 

Although SB 86 eventually died, it was after a long fight.

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Students gave public comments in every Florida Senate committee, murals were painted in Gainesville, and thousands of emails from concerned parents and students flowed into Tallahassee.

I will repeat some of the key points from my 2021 Tampa Bay Times column. College cannot be simplified to “job training.” It should not be barred from those of lower socioeconomic standing. 

An appeal to the wealthiest at the cost of excluding the disenfranchised is a common trait of our peers Sasse failed to explore at the State of the University Address.

One only needs to look at the legacy admissions discussions that have emerged with the affirmative action ruling to see this favoritism. Looking farther back, the revelations that celebrity children get special treatment also come to mind.

The subsidization of education is one of the reasons we rose to our place as the Wall Street Journal’s No. 1 public university, not a “headwind” as Sasse put it. Truthfully, we should be a model for the Top 30, not the reverse.

Our low costs, combined with the generous aid, keep students here. Whether it be based on merit, like Bright Futures, or need, we should be empowering people to stay.

I honestly thought this discussion over our educational model was settled in 2021. Now we have a politician-turned-president bringing back old talking points about the need for a shakeup.

Fortunately, much of the decision-making on UF’s economic model is made in the Florida Legislature. Unfortunately, Tallahassee in 2021 showed their willingness to fundamentally reorganize our higher education.

With the president of Florida’s flagship’s backing, a new attempt may be successful compared to the collapse of SB 86.

Myself and the other 23,000 students who receive Bright Futures want to tell you: Keep your hands off.

The model needs reform, but the core must remain. We do not need a politician from Nebraska telling us how bright our futures could be.

Ronin Lupien is a UF biomedical engineering senior. Follow him on Twitter @LupienRonin.

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