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Students, educators tell Charlie Crist higher education comes with high price tag

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The high cost of a college education was the main issue during a roundtable conversation Friday with Charlie Crist.

“It’s clear to me … that one of the biggest issues is the cost factor,” Crist said. “Many look at higher education as a necessity, but it’s being charged as a luxury.”

The roundtable, the latest in Crist’s “listening tour,” brought together educators, students and graduates to discuss issues facing those who seek undergraduate and graduate degrees.

And while the cost was the hot topic, the group talked about other matters: from for-profit colleges that award worthless degrees while leaving students in debt, to students who would do better in a technical education program than in college.

At one point, group members veered from the topic to talk about the environment and the wastewater that poured into Tampa Bay during and after Hurricane Hermine passed.

Crist said he took a boat out on the Bay on Monday and, as he passed Albert Whitted Airport, near one of St. Petersburg’s treatment plants, he noticed the water “looked brown to me. Shortly after, I heard about what was actually happening. It was unbelievable.”

They didn’t stray from the main topic for long. Crist heard about the difficulties faced by students who graduate heavily in debt. And others, who pay a premium for online classes that don’t give them a chance for one-on-one interaction with teachers. And there are others who say they may have Florida prepaid and Bright Futures scholarships, but they’re still left without money to pay living and food expenses. So they borrow money for those and end up in debt.

One issue Crist said he had not heard before concerned summer classes. Students on the panel said summer classes are mandatory and they cost more, but aren’t covered by grants or other means. So students have to pay for them themselves. And, they have to pay rent to remain on or near campus rather than being able to go home for the summer.

The tuition is just the beginning, they said. It’s add-ons that can really hurt — from high student activity fees and mandatory meal plans, to textbooks that can cost hundreds of dollars but only bring $25 in trade at the end of the semester. Not only are those costs high, they’re growing and many aren’t covered under grants or scholarships, they said.

Crist, a Democrat, is running for the Congressional District 13 seat currently held by Republican David Jolly. The election is Nov. 8.

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