Florida Should Invest in Higher Ed, Not Gut It

A couple weeks back, the Florida House of Representatives adopted a budget that cuts hundreds of millions of dollars from public higher education. New reports say there may be a statewide budget by Tuesday. If the Senate supports the House’s deep cuts when the budget is finalized, it will be devastating for our state’s college and university students, their families, and educators like me.

As an adjunct professor at Broward College, I struggle to make ends meet in an already underfunded higher education system. Despite the fact that I teach health science, my pay is so low that I went without health insurance for years. I lived on cheap fast food meals so I could afford better food for my family. My doctor says that brought on Type 2 diabetes. It’s impossible for me to afford dental coverage, so I struggle with pain and sensitivity from a crown that came off nearly a year ago that I simply cannot pay to replace. I’m not the only one struggling; based on a recent survey, over four in 10 college instructors in our state face such hardships.

Already, Florida is investing less in education than most states and less than it did even a decade ago. I see the effects of this under-investment every time I teach, and it goes beyond the stress of living on a shoestring budget. It means more students per faculty member, which makes it harder for students to learn. It means increased tuition, which makes it more difficult for the children of working Floridians to get the education they need. And it means higher debt loads, which can cripple graduates’ ability to support themselves and their families.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Instructors like me deserve a living wage, and my students deserve a quality education with smaller classes, shorter waits for required courses and debt-free access to college.

That’s why faculty at Broward College, Hillsborough Community College, the University of South Florida and other campuses around the state are forming unions with SEIU Faculty Forward. We need a voice for better conditions for ourselves, our students and our communities. Change is brewing on our campuses, but ultimately we need change in Tallahassee too.

Instead of cutting the higher education budget, Florida should be following the lead of states like Tennessee and New York that are moving towards debt-free college and increased investment in higher education. It’s time for politicians who work for us to reject short-sighted cuts to Florida’s future and instead reinvest in higher education as a common good for all Floridians.

Muhammad Rehan teaches health sciences and biological sciences at Broward College.