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Differential tuition bill passed

UF, FSU and USF allowed to charge more tuition

Published: Sunday, July 1, 2007

Updated: Sunday, February 15, 2009 17:02

In an unexpected turn of events Wednesday, Gov. Charlie Crist signed a bill that will allow three of Florida's public universities to charge undergraduate students an additional $1,000 in tuition over the course of several years.

And if university officials and lobbyists have their way, UCF will eventually be included in that group.

"It is important that we work together to have excellent institutions of higher education in this state," Crist told the Associated Press. "But times are tight."

The University of Florida and Florida State University will be permitted to charge a fee up to 40 percent of the schools' established tuition rates. The University of South Florida will be able to charge a fee up to 30 percent of its tuition. However, the fees - which will not be covered by the Bright Futures Scholarship or the Florida Prepaid College Plan bought after July of this year - must be gradually introduced in increments of no more than 15 percent per year.

"They're sympathetic to what Florida families are dealing with, with insurance and property taxes and things like that," Crist said.

The governor threatened to veto the bill as he recently vetoed a state-wide, 5 percent tuition increase. Describing the tuition differential as "doomed," Crist encouraged universities to tighten their budgets just as Florida families are.

After a meeting with UCF President John Hitt and the presidents of Florida's 10 other public universities - all unanimous in their support of the tuition differential - the governor signed the bill, writing, "I am convinced that the state university presidents' support for this bill reflects a valid concern with the resources available to provide students with a high-quality education, faculty and support services."

Hitt was accompanied by Vice President of University Relations Dan Holsenbeck who described the scene as "enthusiastic."

"I don't know that I've ever seen that many presidents at one time being in so much agreement over what happens, and being in such great accord," Holsenbeck said.

Florida's universities have some of the lowest tuition rates in the country. However, many universities are feeling the bulge of increased student enrollments, and some have been adjusting policies to match their budgets.

FSU announced that they will be capping their enrollment in 2008, and UF is also cutting back on expenditures. Here at UCF, faculty and staff won't receive a salary increase this year.

Steve Orlando, the director of the University of Florida's News Bureau, said "the tuition differential program would allow the universities to actually get ahead and make progress and make changes."

The bill itself states that revenues generated from the tuition differential must be spent on improving the quality of undergraduate education such as hiring more teachers and expanding programs. But even with the tuition differential, Orlando said, tuition costs "would not be at the median level of the top 75 schools in the country ... that means that it would still allow us to be very competitive and still allow us the revenue we need to make improvements to provide a better education for our students."

Crist asked the three schools involved to wait until the fall of 2008 before issuing the fee, so steps can be taken toward finding sources for funds outside of tuition revenue. Until then, universities will continue watching their wallets.

"We still have that year to get through until we implement the other plan," Orlando said. "So we do still have to take some measures to keep costs restrained until we get to that point."

Holsenbeck said he hopes to see UCF included in the bill by then. The three participating schools were selected through a series of classification systems that disqualified UCF because of the categories used, Holsenbeck said, and because 2003 data was used. He said UCF has always been in favor of differential tuition and that the school would like to become involved in the program by next fall.

"We are certainly going to give that 100 percent of our effort and have been assured by many people in the process that they would be amenable to that," he said.

The Student Government Association at UCF, however, is not thrilled with the idea.

Earlier this month, UCF's SGA passed a resolution opposing the differential tuition bill stating that it is "fundamentally detrimental to the state university system" and that it "would severely limit student access to public higher education ... "

SGA Director of Governmental Affairs Maria Pecoraro was surprised by the governor's decision, noting that his political platform has been to make higher education more accessible. The bill creates an access issue because the fee isn't covered by Bright Futures or Florida Prepaid programs purchased after July 1, 2007.

Students will be paying out-of-pocket to cover the expense.

"Students don't want to pay more money," Pecoraro said. "They just don't." She said she fears that students living on fixed incomes and loans might become discouraged by the high rates of some of Florida's top universities.

Florida State University's SGA president Joe O'Shea agrees that the bill presents an accessibility issue for those students struggling financially and also passed a resolution against the bill.

"As a whole," he said "the state needs to really step up its efforts in providing need-based aid for our students." He said he would have been more supportive of the bill had it contained language intended to increase need-based aid.

Computer engineering major Joel Jurik doesn't agree with the additional fees either. "No one would like a tuition increase, honestly," he said. "We're in college and we're not making that much money."

Holsenbeck said that revenues from the tuition differential would help lower the faculty-to-student ratio if the bill were amended to include UCF. "I think the first thing we would do with any tuition increase would be to hire additional faculty," he said.

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