If you dropped out of college, you're still qualified to be a Florida governor, leading the nation's fourth largest state.
Or a state senator, deciding how to spend billions in tax dollars.
Or the state's chief financial officer, responsible for the accounting and auditing of the state's books.
But without a college degree, some legislators say you're not qualified to help set utility rates paid by millions of Floridians.
These regulators "have serious responsibilities to understand complicated rate cases," said Rep. Joe Gibbons, D- Hallandale Beach. "Someone with a college degree has the ability to learn and the discipline required to receive it."
He is one of 34 lawmakers who has voted for a bill that would require those appointed to the state Public Services Commission to have a bachelor's degree from an accredited college. The provision, one of many to reorganize the agency that regulates the state's utilities, is in a bill that could be put to a full House vote this week.
Some observers see another reason for the college-degree provision: oust commission Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano.
"She is fighting for consumers, and the utilities don't like it," said Bill Newton, executive director of the Florida Consumer Action Network. "Utilities are among the largest contributors to the Legislature, so it is no surprise that they are doing the utilities' bidding."
The five-member Public Service Commission has been at the center of a political firestorm over the past year after the state's largest utility, Florida Power & Light, proposed its largest rate increase ever. Contentious hearings erupted over allegations of cozy relationships between regulators and utility staffers.
Some commission officials resigned or were put on temporary leave. Gov. Charlie Crist appointed two regulatory newcomers to the commission, and the new commission rejected all but 6 percent of FPL's rate increase.
All of which put the Public Service Commission in the public eye.
Three House committees have approved the bill to reorganize the commission. Gibbons said the bill "has nothing to do with any one individual."
Five legislators who voted for it don't have bachelor's degrees, including Matt Hudson, a Republican who represents parts of Broward and Collier counties.
Hudson said he supports the requirement for commissioners because they're paid more than $130,000 a year and deal with "extraordinarily technical matters." Legislators are paid about $30,000 for their part-time work.
"Certainly these are people that are expected to know a great deal, and I think it's appropriate that we put criterion, just like you would put criterion for any executive position," he said.
Florida House Speaker Larry Cretul supports the requirement.
A college requirement is important because "PSC members are not elected," Jill Chamberlin, the speaker's spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail. "They are supposed to make decisions as judges do."
In the FPL rate case, Chamberlin said the PSC considered 176 complex issues ranging from accounting to the cost of capital. The commission has a staff of engineers, economists, accountants, finance experts and lawyers to review these issues, "but the staff does not make the decisions," she wrote.
As for comparisons to elected officials, "The Governor, the Legislature are elected," she said. "It's up to the voters to determine standards for knowledge and background."
Argenziano, a vocal critic of utilities' influence on policy and regulation, dropped out of pre-veterinary college to raise her son and work as a veterinary tech. She washed cars and painted and cleaned apartments on weekends. She also became a real estate agent and part owner of an emergency animal hospital in West Palm Beach. She spent 10 years as a Republican legislator from Crystal River before being named to the commission by Crist.
"I could not get what many people my age had the good fortune to get, a formal education. But I can tell you I learned through the school of hard knocks, hard work and experience," she said.
"While I never claim to be a genius, I do know I was born with intelligence."
Public Counsel J.R. Kelly, the state's utility customer advocate, said all the commissioners he's dealt with the past few years have been "learned."
"I might not like their decisions but I could not sit there and tell you they weren't competent," he said.
Katie Nichols did not graduate after attending Cornell University but served on the commission from 1981 to 1989. Nichols said she had attended commission meetings for years before that and hired someone with accounting experience because she knew she needed help in that area. Despite not having a degree, Nichols said, "I think I was better prepared" than most.
College degrees aren't required for many top governments posts, such as insurance commissioner and the board of governors of the state university system. But search committees for the jobs may require degrees, and some state jobs require advanced degrees. For example, the Attorney General must be a member of the Florida Bar, which means he or she must have a law degree. Only licensed physicians can be appointed to the state Board of Medicine.
Jan Beecher is director of the Institute of Public Utilities at Michigan State University, a utility regulation research center. She has looked at the demographics and qualifications of utility commissioners nationwide.
She knows of no state that requires utility commissioners have a college degree but a study she completed last month found that most do. Only 32 of 233 commissioners nationwide said they had completed "associate, some college, or not specified."
A few states require specific experience, Beecher said. For example, Nebraska's municipal utility regulation board has designated spots for an attorney, an engineer, an accountant and two laypeople.
"You want to be very careful not to exclude someone because your hands are tied by statutory requirements," she said. "But I certainly think education is important in our field."
She recommends that states give commissioners the opportunity to learn more about utility regulation. In most states, agency staff provides technical expertise, she pointed out.
Floridians have elected seven governors who didn't have college degrees, according to Gary Mormino, a history professor at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg.
"I am leery to suggest that a college degree makes one smart or better suited to govern," he said. "Character matters more than brains or a college pedigree."
Julie Patel can be reached at 954-356-4667 and jpatel@SunSentinel.com.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun