The state university system wants a $118 million increase in state funding for Florida’s public universities. The schools say they’re willing to forgo another tuition increase if lawmakers appropriate the money.
University system officials say they expect state lawmakers will keep their promise and restore a $300 million cut to public universities from last year. But the schools want something else too: an additional $118 million they say will tied to how well they perform in areas like graduation rates. And university presidents say they're willing to freeze tuition rates in exchange for the extra money:
"With an investment tied to our students, we promise not to seek one penny of tuition increases this year," said University of West Florida President Judy Bense.
Like other parts of the state budget, higher education has seen its funding shrink in recent years. The result: larger classes for students, fewer faculty, fewer degree programs and stalled projects. As state support has dwindled, tuition has increased. But those increases haven’t come close to making up the gap in state funding. And the schools have complained that they can’t sustain any more reductions.
Some key lawmakers appear willing to consider the universities offer.
“It seems as though sometimes you look at the tuition increase and you say, ‘we’re driving poor families out’, but then you look at the net increase and what it means to an average family, the number isn’t as shocking,” said House Education Appropriations Chairman Erik Fresen.
He says the arguments against tuition increases make it seem as if rates are so high that college is unaffordable for many families and that they don’t match with the reality of how little students actually pay, especially compared with other states.
The national tuition average is $8,200. Right now, full time students in Florida pay about $6,000 a year for their education. Many pay far less than that through financial aid and the state’s Bright Futures Scholarship Program.
A task force set up by Governor Rick Scott is recommending the state either allow tuition rates to rise, or put more state money into the system—with strings attached of course. Task force chairman Dale Brille says university funding should be tied to accountability. He says students and their parents have a reasonable expectation that the state should meet them halfway when it comes to costs.
“We went back and forth and back and forth, and said, from an assumption of our calculations, let’s do a 50-50. That isn’t it reasonable that the state meet a student halfway in what they’re pony-ing up and the state is pony-ing up? So we landed at wouldn’t a 50-50 at least be a fair philosophical starting point?” Brille said to a House education committee.
Since 2007 Florida’s public universities have seen a 40 percent reduction in state support. And at many schools, tuition is now the dominant source of revenue. After the university’s announced their funding campaign, Governor Rick Scott, an opponent of tuition increases, issued a statement praising the schools for holding the line on tuition. But it’s not clear whether he supports the additional funding request.
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