Sen. Dennis Baxley presents bill 86 – and college major roulette

Sen. Dennis Baxley presents bill 86 - and college major roulette

Florida Senator Dennis Baxley has presented a bill that could shake the very foundations of higher education in Florida. On Feb. 23, the Republican Senator presented a potential limitation to scholarship opportunities for students entering college in Florida. This bill would see the Board of Governors and the State Board of Education create an approved list of majors and programs each year, and any student pursuing a different career field may see their college funding cut in half, despite having the same qualifications. This would extend to the Bright Futures scholarship as well, and goes so far as to state that a student entering a non-approved program will be capable of receiving credit for only 60 credit hours with full Bright Futures, as opposed to the typical 120 required for a bachelor’s degree. There are multiple petitions circulating to stop Senate Bill 86 from passing.

As if it even needed to be said, this is a massive slap in the face to students who intend to pursue careers deemed ‘not likely to lead to jobs’ in the state of Florida. Despite their own achievements or ambition, the simple perception of certain jobs as less important or deserving of funding is extremely insulting. The concept that some jobs hold a higher innate value than others is not only entirely untrue but also wildly misguided. To attempt to place students in neat little boxes of “valuable to society” and “everything else” is an impossible task. To attempt to base this system on what jobs lead directly to careers is also absurd. There is no way for anyone to fully and accurately predict which majors are going to be more valuable or in demand by the time an incoming college freshman graduates. The bill presented by Sen. Baxley will, in its present form, hold student’s passions for ransom and push college students into a major they have no passion for – a major which may be vastly oversaturated by the time they are even able to use it.

On top of that, this proposed bill will not be effective in the way certain lawmakers seem to think it will. Decreasing the funding for certain majors will not decrease the number of students going to college for certain fields in any substantial way. If someone wants to go to school to major in Creative Writing or Art History, this bill would not prevent them from doing so – they just wouldn’t do it in the state of Florida. Limiting scholarships, including Bright Futures, in this way completely defeats their purpose. The Bright Futures scholarship was brought on in 1997 for the purpose of keeping students in the state of Florida for college, and eventually, their careers. The scholarship is also publicly funded, so to allow the government to limit who will be able to reap the benefits seems wildly shortsighted and unfair.

There’s something undeniably dystopian about allowing the government to control what programs are deemed ‘important’ enough for aid to be provided to the students entering them. This, especially when connected with the already lackluster funding of many liberal arts programs themselves, makes this proposed bill feel distinctly Orwellian. By opening the gates and allowing this to happen,  there is truly no way to tell what limitations on the fine and liberal arts will follow.

Beyond just the ethics of this proposed bill, however, are the practical concerns. What happens 10 years down the line, when liberal arts programs have been deemed irrelevant in an attempt to discourage people from pursuing them? We see a new version of the teacher shortage, maybe even with the same career. Although the liberal and fine arts may seem optional or unnecessary, they are an integral part of how our society and economy function. To attempt to discourage people from these careers will only lead to an oversaturation of ‘jobs leading to careers’ and shortages of people and talent in every other field.

In the same vein, this bill is very unclear about what programs are deemed programs that will ‘lead to jobs’. Sen. Baxley provided nursing as an example, but this seems like a dishonest attempt to make the bill seem less polarizing. Everyone can agree that having enough nurses is a good thing – but what happens when we get to the liberal arts? Is the state of Florida going to declare journalists irrelevant to society? What about museum curators, artists, performers? Do these people get to be declared obsolete once a bill passes because a Senator danced around them beforehand? One can only assume these are the careers Baxley is referring to in this bill, and yet he will not outright state it. What Baxley must not realize is that he has created a potential reality wherein two students can work just as hard as the other and perform just as well in school, but only be rewarded with half the reward, solely dependent on what words will be printed on their diploma

When presenting this bill, Sen. Dennis Baxley also attempted to use his own personal experience to make it seem less radical. His reasoning seemed sound at first but doesn’t hold up under further investigation. In his explanation of the bill, Baxley stated his B.A. in Psychology and Sociology only got him, “two bucks and a cup of coffee in most towns.” This seems reasonable – Baxley is trying to prevent people from going through what he did. This leaves out a major part of the story, however. Baxley mentions later that his A.S in Funeral Services was what helped him get jobs. However, it isn’t that simple. Although the numbers are not entirely conclusive, the US Department of Labor estimates that the number of psychologists increased more in the 70s than in any decade before or since. This created a field where it was expected for a graduate to obtain their master’s degree if they wished for psychology to be their career. Sen. Baxley did not do this. In addition, he obtained his B.A. in 1974, and his A.S. in 1975. This is not the story of a man who attempted to make it in the psychology industry for years before returning to school, despite what he would like to imply. Baxley went directly from one form of schooling to another, without there even being time for a break in between.

So, when Sen. Baxley talks about the success he found after obtaining his second degree, he does so in bad faith. With his bill, he also misses the point entirely. What Baxley is truly promoting when he cites his own experience is the benefits of entering a specialized field. So, the solution here is not to declare that the government will prevent certain students from being funded – but rather to promote more specialized programs, regardless of field. Sen. Baxley seems to believe this is what he is doing, but indeed he is achieving the opposite. Psychologists concluded decades ago that positive reinforcement is leagues more effective than negative reinforcement. As a man with a psychology degree himself, Sen. Dennis Baxley should be well aware of this.