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Should colleges charge more for STEM?

Should an engineering degree cost more than a degree in English? Or a degree in education?

The question was posed at a House Education Committee meeting Friday.

On hand for the discussion: University of Florida President Bernie Machen, Florida State University President Eric Barron and state University System Chancellor Frank Brogan.

The topic is timely. Gov. Rick Scott has called on universities to produce more majors in science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- but without extra dollars from the state. Scott's proposed budget does not boost funding for public colleges and universities.

Machen said STEM degrees are among the most costly degrees the University of Florida provides. The professors, labs and research are all expensive.

What's more, students with STEM degrees are likely to draw higher salaries than other students after graduation.

"It is not unrealistic to think that the cost they would pay to get that degree would be higher than the cost someone would pay for another degree," Machen said.

Barron said he, too, could support differentiated tuition.

"I would charge STEM students more and deliver something better," he said.

While no bill has been authored, Rep. Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, called the tuition idea "a resonable proposal." As it stands, colleges and universities have limited flexibility when it comes to setting tuition.

Proctor didn't seem to think the extra tuition would have a chilling effect on STEM programs, especially if students could be guaranteed a quality education.

"If you want to produce more [STEM graduates], you can only go so far on current resources," he said.