FSU, UF could soon break free of tuition caps

Feb 21, 2012

If you want to be a Gator or Seminole it could soon cost you a lot of money. Students at two of the state’s largest universities could see tuition bills more in line with those at other top-tiered schools in the nation. Lynn Hatter reports a proposal to allow the schools to break free of the state’s tuition cap is now making its way through the legislature.

Universities that meet 11 out of 14 benchmarks would be able to increase tuition above and beyond the state’s 15-percent a year cap. A proposal by Representative Bill Proctor creates "State Universities of Academic and Research Excellence and National Preeminence ".  The designation is for schools with  large numbers of students with SAT and GPA scores, a six-year graduation rate of 70-percent or more, and a high number of patents and graduates with doctoral degrees.

 “The scope is intentionally narrow to address the legislature’s expectations of high performing research institutions.”   

Under Proctor’s bill, only Florida State and the University of Florida currently meet the designation of a “State University of Academic and Research Excellence,” and therefore, only those two schools would be allowed to aim for that national tuition standard. It’s something the schools have pushed for, for a very long time. The move also has the endorsement of Florida Board of Governors Chancellor Frank Brogan, who has long said the universities can’t all be treated the same way.

“We continue to treat all 11 the same, and they’re not. They are very different institutions, and they should be, and they should be allowed the flexibility to be what they are.”  

After several years of tuition hikes, the cost of attending a public university in Florida remains far below the national average, which is about *$15,000 a year. The state’s tuition rate is currently a third of that. FSU and UF could raise tuition rates up to 30-40 percent a year with the money going for things like lowering teacher-student ratios, attracting nationally known scholars, and funding expensive programs in science, technology, engineering and math. Both universities have also said charging higher tuition will help them climb higher in national rankings. But not everyone thinks letting the schools break out of the state’s tuition caps is a good idea.

“And when I look at a bill like this and I look at the tuition increases in our budget, it looks to me like the legislature has decided it’s not going to properly fund the higher education system, and the way to recoup the money was to put it on the backs of our hardworking students who are already struggling as it is.”  

Representative Martin Kair, a Broward Democrat, says he’s also worried about a part of the bill that would let the schools charge families for the difference in tuition even after they’ve locked in a pre-paid tuition rate through a savings plan.

“What this does is it makes it even more expensive for these people. And I think eventually it will make this great program, that so many of us rely on for our children, obsolete. And that gives me great concern.”  

And although she voted for the bill, Republican Representative Kelli Stargel said she’s worried the schools could lose their focus and price out qualified Florida students as they chase the national tuition average and higher rankings.

“I support the opportunity, but I’d also challenge the universities to be cognizant of the student population in the state, and that we want the best and brightest to stay here.”  

Fellow Republican Representative John Tobia of Melborne said for the time being he couldn’t support the proposal because of a lack of input from the state’s other nine universities, and students.

 “I just don’t feel comfortable voting for a bill that could raise tuition 30-40 percent each and every year when we’re already increasing it at the staggering rate of 15-percent. I think we need to place the students that attend these universities over the institutions themselves.”  

Some of the stat universities say they aren’t that concerned with the proposal. For example, the University of Central Florida, says it’s not worried about what other schools do, but adds that Proctor’s bill gives all universities something to work toward.

The Florida Board of Governors would still sign off on all tuition hikes outside what the Legislature sets. And it’s not a done deal yet. It must clear both chambers and gain approval from Governor Rick Scott, who has said he’s opposed to any tuition increase.


*Clarification:      According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the national tuition average in 2010 for a public, four-year institution was $15,014. That number includes tuition and fees, along with room and board and other incidentals. According to the College Board, 2011-12, the average tuition rate for a public four-year college was $8,244 in tuition and fees. Florida does not include room and board in its tuition estimates.