THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, June 19, 2012
Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida
All but two of 11 state universities will ask the Florida Board of Governors for a 15 percent tuition increase this year, bucking Gov. Rick Scott's push to hold down the cost of a college education.
In filings with the board, every institution except the University of Florida asked the governors for the maximum increase allowed under the state's "differential tuition" law. UF decided to ask for a 9 percent increase after President Bernie Machen and some of the school's trustees expressed unease with going to the full 15 percent.
The University of South Florida initially told the board it would seek a 15 percent increase, but later trustees decided it will instead ask for an 11 percent increase.
But the universities' requests also include forecasts that, without additional state funding, the schools will likely ask for 15 percent increases again in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 budget years, though those predictions are not binding and are tied to built-in assumptions about future state spending. The forecasts don't include UF, because its board voted on its request later than other universities.
The Board of Governors is expected to vote on the recommendations Thursday, at the end of three days of meetings that will include in-depth reviews of each university's plan for the next three years.
Many of the universities stressed the benefits of the additional tuition dollars they have received in recent years and the added funds they would draw down under the plans. Florida A&M University, for example, said it was able to offer 859 classes that otherwise wouldn't have been offered during the 2011-12 school year without differential tuition dollars.
Florida International University wrote that it would use $13.3 million to hire undergraduate faculty with an eye on increasing graduate rates. That would be by far the lion's share of the money, with only $12.3 million earmarked for financial aid coming close.
On the other hand, universities warned of dire consequences if the board doesn't approve their requests.
"There will be a significant negative impact on availability of required general education course sections, students' ability to obtain required courses, resulting in inability to continue education, larger class sizes, decreased graduation rates, increased time to degree and excess hours from taking unnecessary courses if required courses are not available," FAMU wrote.
Florida Atlantic University said it would be forced to cut 75 faculty positions, nine advisors and 500 classes if the differential tuition increases aren't approved.
And the University of Central Florida said its already-rising class size would increase even faster.
"Without differential tuition, the University of Central Florida's ability to continue to provide high-quality access to undergraduate degrees is at risk," the request says.
Florida State raised the specter of an increasing exodus of faculty members, lured to other states by higher salaries.
The requests from universities also show how the schools have used the 30 percent of the funding required to be devoted to need-based financial aid. In some cases, the amounts given to individual students vary widely, with 752 students at Florida Gulf Coast University receiving anywhere between $50 and $6,482. The average award at FGCU was $1,847.
The push comes at the same time that Scott has pushed universities not to boost tuition. In a radio interview earlier this month, Scott -- who is set to meet with the board on Tuesday -- repeated his hesitance about increase the costs of college.
"We cannot continue to raise tuition constantly on the backs of our families," Scott told 97.3 The Sky radio in Gainesville. "They cannot afford it. ... I'm against raising tuition."