How the Sunshine State Has Used Transparency and Innovation to Open Up New Workforce Pathways
- Florida's take on students' right to know provides real transparency.
- Other states are also paving the way in higher education transparency.
- Florida's innovation has strengthened the next generation of workers.
Florida has long been a leader in higher education. Tuition relief measures and innovative methods to attract students have fostered one of the best higher education systems in the country. In fact, Florida has the lowest tuition for public four-year institutions while maintaining some of the best outcomes in the nation.1 As costs in Florida fell by roughly 23 percent over the last two decades, enrollment has spiked by nearly 50 percent.2
New innovations in Florida’s higher education system—under the leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis—are taking this solid foundation to the next level, such as through targeted tuition waivers and more online options.3But one of the most important developments in Florida’s higher education system has been increased transparency for families and students through the MyFloridaFuture tool, which showcases outcomes and costs by university, field of study, and degree level.4 This dashboard uses the concept of Students’ Right to Know—a policy designed to provide prospective college students with as much information as possible so that they can make an informed decision about their future.5
But a traditional four-year degree program is not the right choice for everyone. Coupled with Florida’s advancements in higher education transparency has been a greater emphasis on building the bridge between postsecondary education and the workforce. Innovative reforms designed to give students more workforce-oriented options after high school have complemented the state’s rollout of comprehensive transparency for students.
Together, these two features—robust transparency and workforce-oriented policies—have expanded pathways for students and empowered families to make the best decisions about students’ futures.
Florida’s take on Students’ Right to Know provides real transparency
In 2022, Florida launched the MyFloridaFuture tool—a free, online dashboard providing students with a wide array of information to help them make informed decisions about their future.6 The dashboard allows students to examine different degree levels, majors, and universities and predict employment outcomes, earnings, and student loan balances under countless scenarios.7
For example, a student interested in art history would find that the median salary one year after graduation with a bachelor’s degree is actually more than the median salary one year after graduation with a master’s degree—suggesting that an advanced degree in this field may not be worth the extra time and expense.8 In contrast, a computer engineering major would see their earnings jump by more than 20 percent as they move from a bachelor’s to a master’s, and then by another 58 percent as they move from a master’s to a doctorate.9 And depending on which university they are interested in attending, their median earnings could rise even more.10 The tool also shows that a computer engineering degree is overall far more lucrative than an art history degree.11
Not only can this tool be used to help determine which four-year path is the right one for a student, but it can also help assess whether an alternative postsecondary path may be more appealing. This is especially true when the dashboard is compared with public data from the Florida Department of Education on outcomes in secondary and postsecondary vocational programs.
For example, a high school student interested in exercise science or exercise physiology is faced with two very different paths.
Option one would be to follow the traditional four-year degree path and get a bachelor’s in exercise physiology, earning an estimated $28,000 one year after graduation while paying more than $2,500 per year on a $20,000 student loan balance, for net earnings of $25,480 per year.12
Option two would be to take three exercise science courses, earn a secondary vocational certificate, and earn $24,384 per year—nearly as much as a bachelor’s would secure—without having to worry about student loan debt or spending four years studying.13
The choice is clear thanks to the power of transparency.
Some overall findings from these transparency resources include:
- Scaling between different degree levels often makes the difference in accelerating earnings, but at the cost of additional time and resources;
- Field of study is hugely influential in determining earnings and employment outcomes;
- Many low-cost, low-time commitment secondary and postsecondary programs are appealing alternatives to four-year degrees in similar fields of study—and often produce similar levels of typical earnings;
- Student loan amounts can make or break the difference between a degree in a particular field being “worth it”; and
- The specific school of attendance for a four-year degree does have implications for cost, quality, and post-education outcomes like earnings and employment.
Other states are also paving the way in higher education transparency
Other states have taken steps to infuse greater transparency into their higher education systems. In total, 12 states have passed some form of Students’ Right to Know, providing transparency to nearly three million students per year.14
But not all of these states have taken the steps to launch a public-facing dashboard like the MyFloridaFuture tool. These states can and should do more by emulating Florida’s success with supercharging transparency in higher education.
Florida’s innovation has strengthened the next generation of workers
In addition to its radical higher education transparency, online tuition waivers, tuition waivers for grandchildren of Florida residents, and more, under Governor DeSantis, Florida has taken steps to build pathways for students that choose an alternative to a four-year college degree.15
STRENGTHENING WORKFORCE EDUCATION
In 2019, Florida passed a law which, among other things, required colleges to create regional career pathways that guarantee college credit to those who graduate from a career center, and opened up new opportunities for students to explore innovative fields—like computer science—at the high school level.16 These policies better align postsecondary pathways for students, regardless of what path they choose to take after high school.
REMOVING BARRIERS TO WORK
In 2020, Florida prohibited state entities from denying, suspending, or revoking occupational licenses on the basis of defaulting on student loans or being delinquent with payments.17 Instead of taking away the means of students to repay their loans, lawmakers ensured that government could not stand in the way of a young professional and their future prosperity.
NEW OPPORTUNITIES FOR DUAL ENROLLMENT AND STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES
In 2021, Florida expanded funding flexibility for the Florida Postsecondary Comprehensive Transition Program, which creates higher education opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities.18 The legislation also helped advance the success of the state’s dual enrollment program—which allows advanced high school students to take college courses—by reimbursing colleges for certain dual enrollment expenses.19 Together, these two policies helped build a stronger foundation for more students.
EXPANDING WORKFORCE OPTIONS FOR VETERANS
Also in 2021, Florida waived certain postsecondary requirements for veterans and active-duty service members seeking employment, while also enhancing hiring preferences to veterans.20
Coupled with other reforms to support veterans with employment and training, this will help smooth the transition from service to civilian life through better workforce-driven supports.
REVAMPING WORKFORCE ACCOUNTABILITY
Florida lawmakers passed a significant overhaul of conventional thinking around workforce education in 2021.21 The legislation created the Reimagining Education and Career Help Office in the Governor’s Office to align Florida’s workforce development system, added new accountability measures to workforce entities, launched the “Money-Back Guarantee program” that requires certain Florida schools to refund tuition if students cannot get a job within six months of completing certain workforce programs, and much more.22 This comprehensive package was designed to coordinate the state’s higher education system with its workforce needs.
Each of these laws has laid the groundwork for a stronger postsecondary educational system and a more robust workforce. When coupled with additional transparency, these workforce initiatives become even more useful for Floridians.
THE BOTTOM LINE: More states should provide transparency to students.
Transparency and innovation in higher education should not end with Florida and its 11 state counterparts. Lawmakers around the country should provide students with real outcomes- oriented data on their postsecondary options to ensure students make the right choices for their needs. And by coupling traditional college transparency with transparency in outcomes for vocational programs—as Florida did—lawmakers can truly ensure that students and their families are making decisions with the most useful information at their disposal.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE VISIT: THEFGA.ORG/WP-CONTENT/UPLOADS/2023/01/ APPENDIX-DATA_FLORIDA-EDUCATION-PROGRAMS-OUTCOMES.PDF.
1 Hayden Dublois, “How Florida is leading the nation in higher education,” Foundation for Government Accountability (2022), https://thefga.org/research/florida-leading-nation-in-higher-education.
4 State University System of Florida Board of Governors, “MyFloridaFuture tool,” BOG (2022), https://www.flbog.edu/myfloridafuture/my-florida-future-dashboard.
5 Trevor Carlsen, “Prospective students deserve real facts up front from colleges and universities,” Foundation for Government Accountability (2022), https://thefga.org/research/students-deserve-facts-up-front.
6 Hayden Dublois, “How Florida is leading the nation in higher education,” Foundation for Government Accountability (2022), https://thefga.org/research/florida-leading-nation-in-higher-education.
7 State University System of Florida Board of Governors, “MyFloridaFuture tool,” BOG (2022), https://www.flbog.edu/myfloridafuture/my-florida-future-dashboard.
13 Florida Department of Education, “District secondary vocational programs 2019 – 2020 completers statewide: FETPIP follow-up outcomes,” DOE (2022), https://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/7592/urlt/SEC1920.SWByProgram.pdf.
14 Author’s calculations on the impact of Students’ Right to Know Reforms in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia on one-fourth of enrolled students. See, e.g., Digest of Education Statistics, “Enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools, by region, state, and jurisdiction: Selected years, fall 1990 through fall 2030,” National Center for Education Statistics (2022), https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d22/tables/dt22_203.20.asp.
15 Hayden Dublois, “How Florida is leading the nation in higher education,” Foundation for Government Accountability (2022), https://thefga.org/research/florida-leading-nation-in-higher-education.
16 Florida Senate, “HB 7071 of 2019,” State of Florida (2019), https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2019/7071/?Tab=BillHistory.
17 Florida Senate, “HB 115 of 2020,” State of Florida (2020), https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2020/115/?Tab=BillHistory.
18 Florida Senate, “SB 52 of 2021,” State of Florida (2021), https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2021/52/?Tab=BillHistory.
20 Florida Senate, “SB 922 of 2021,” State of Florida (2021), https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2021/922.
21 Florida Senate, “HB 1507 of 2021,” State of Florida (2021), https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2021/1507/?Tab=BillHistory.