Florida’s 11 public universities will lose another 300-million dollars for the upcoming fiscal year. That includes a double-whammy for Florida’s Capital city, home to two of those institutions. The loss of state revenue has both schools looking to their students to make up some of the difference, and as Lynn Hatter reports, students and community and state colleges will also be asked to pay more.
Florida State University students have launched a phone and petition drive urging Governor Rick Scott to veto a bill that would let the school raise tuition above the 15-percent a year cap currently in place. Tuition has increased every year for the past six years. And students like Cherry Smith say enough is enough.
“I’m the first generation in college. Both my brothers are high-school drop outs. I had to make it. I’m really happy to be here, and I hope I can continue to be here.”
FSU, along with almost all other state universities, has taken advantage of that tuition-hiking opportunity in recent years as the state has cut back on its funding share. The Tallahassee university took the largest percentage of state budget cuts this year, to the tune of $65 million dollars. FSU President Eric Barron says the school has the ability to absorb the cut without having to lay anyone off by tapping into reserves. In a town hall meeting, Barron also addressed students concerns with the tuition bill and higher rates, starting with how the money will be used.
“To make sure that students who are poor and don’t have access to resources won’t be disadvantaged. The second this is faculty hires to address student demand. If we increase tuition, they should be getting more, not less. The third thing is faculty retention. You can read in here salaries. We have to be competitive on salaries if we’re going to be a preeminent university”
The issue of retaining teachers is also problematic for FAMU, which has lost top scholars in one of its most high-profile programs—pharmacy. But unlike FSU, FAMU would have to stick to the state’s tuition cap. University President James Ammons says even that is posing serious problems for the school.
“With this budget cut, we’re now at a funding level that we were in 1997-1998. We have a larger percentage of our funding coming from tuition than we have from general revenue.”
Lawmakers cut FAMU’s budget by $19 million dollars for the upcoming fiscal year. Like Florida State, President Ammons says his school can cover the cut without layoffs because, in an effort to be prudent, it built up a reserve fund. Ammons says FAMU is starting to look at ways to diversify its revenue stream—starting with more private support. But when it comes to the issue of raising tuition, Ammons is wary. He worries about students on need-based financial aid who can’t depend on their families to help make up those increases.
“I think we have to be very, very careful as we look at how we finance education and the impact it’s going to have on our students and their families.”
Tallahassee Community College President Jim Murdough shares a similar view of tuition increases.
“Quite frankly, nobody likes tuition increases. We don’t want to add to the burden of a student that comes to class.”
Florida’s newest budget allocates a five percent increase for community and state colleges. The state has long prided itself on its 2-plus-2 system, touting it as a low-cost, high quality method of allowing students access to higher education. And for many students, it’s much more affordable than going straight into a university. But that may not be the case much longer.
“If we were to entertain a tuition increase, if the governor were to signal that he’d be willing to let colleges entertain that, we’d start a dialogue about what that 5-percent would go toward. We’re not looking to have money just to have money.”
Even though the state’s budget assumes colleges and universities will raise tuition, that’s not a guarantee it will happen. Governor Scott has repeatedly said he’s opposed to tuition hikes, and he could veto the FSU-UF Tuition bill, along with the five-percent increase for state colleges. Even with those vetoes, tuition could still rise, if the universities get approval from the state board which oversees them.