Governor still undecided on tuition and Polytechnic bills

Apr 13, 2012

Sitting on Governor Rick Scott’s desk are two proposals that could bring about big changes to Florida’s Higher Education System. Both measures were hotly debated during the 2012 legislative session and continue to be even now. Lynn Hatter reports one proposal would create a 12th public state university, and the other would let two schools break free of the state’s tuition caps.

If you ask students how they feel about tuition, the answer is pretty uniform.

 At Florida State University, students continue to protest a bill that would give the school the ability to break free of the state’s 15-percent a year tuition cap and charge what’s called a “market-rate” price for tuition in some of its most in-demand programs. The move is backed by FSU’s president Eric Barron, and the University of Florida, which would also get the same tuition-setting authority under the proposal.

For the last several years, as the state legislature has scaled back state funding to Florida’s public university system it’s given the schools the ability to raise tuition. At some institutions, tuition is now the main source of financing. Despite the increases, Florida’s tuition rates are still below the national average. However, as Cassandra Timothy will tell you, there’s more to a university’s cost, than just tuition.

 “Tuition has increased every single year, over $1000 every year.  My Bright Futures has maxed out because of that. I’m $10,000 in debt because of this budget crisis. My tuition bill includes my housing…transportation, housing—the cost of living at USF is about $27,000 today.”

Timothy is graduating from the University of South Florida, a school that wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the tuition bill.  However, USF will be affected in another way. That’s because a branch campus of the university is on the verge of breaking off—and taking its students, and its state funding with it.

The University of South Florida’s Polytechnic Campus announced last year that it wanted to become an independent state university—a move that was opposed by faculty, students, and USF’s President Judy Genshaft. But the Polytech campus has friends in high places: like outgoing Senate Budget Chief J.D. Alexander—who managed to get a bill through that would establish the Polytech campus as “Florida Polytechnic University”, the state’s 12th public institution. During debate of the bill, Alexander brushed off his critics over concerns about the accreditation process for a new university and how current students could be impacted by the split.

“Anyone who is misinforming them they should be clear. There’s no possibility that they should have concern about any USF-Poly student today having future accreditation for the degree they’ve begun.” 

The Governor’s Press office has received a total of 14,000 emails on the Polytech bill. Many of them have come from organized campaigns.  1700 of those emails came from individual people, with those in support of the new Polytech – U by a 3-1 margin. By Monday the office had logged 34 phone calls, all in opposition.

Governor Rick Scott has final say on both the tuition bill and the Polytechnic University. He’s been weighing the pros and cons of both.

“It’s not like it’s easy. There’s a lot of it…going through the budget, the line items, what we should do with USF Polytech, and the UF-FSU issue, I’m going to meet with people, listen to both sides and try to make the best decision possible.”

 The governor is not a fan of tuition hikes, and has said for the past several months that schools need to tighten their belts rather than raise tuition.   But when it comes to the Polytech…

“What’s best for students? That’s why we create universities. We create universities so students can get a job. So my filter is going to be, what’s going to be the best for students in our state? What’s going to help prepare them in the best manner so they can get a job?

The Polytechnic bill passed the Senate after much debate, but the House never took a vote. Instead, it  bumped the bill up to the budget chairs. The tuition bill was part of a session-long process to examine how to support more graduates in science, technology, engineering and math programs.