Student fee caps remain intact


Published: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 11:44 p.m.
A proposal to lift statewide caps on student fees was scrapped by the Florida Board of Governors on Thursday, but the board agreed to seek Legislative authorization for universities to charge students a new technology fee.
The state's university presidents collectively called on the board to push for removal of a 5 percent annual increase limit on three student fees, but the board said further review of the proposal was necessary. The proposal also would have freed up universities to charge three combined fees to levels as high as 45 percent of tuition, up from the 40 percent now allowed under law.
The board plans to revisit both issues in February.
Members of the Board of Governors, a 17-member body that governs the State University System, expressed concern that lifting the 5 percent cap would be met with Legislative resistance. If every university raised its fees to the maximum - a scenario board members view as unlikely - an additional $9.8 million would be required for Bright Futures, the statewide scholarship program that covers tuition and fees for qualifying students.
At the University of Florida, the lift on caps would allow UF to charge as much as $32.20 per credit hour, $13 more than students pay now for the three fees. For a student taking a full 15-hour course load, that would mean potential fees of $483 a semester.
Even under the current law, though, UF charges less than the maximum allowable in student fees. The university's fees of about $19 per credit hour are the lowest in the state, falling nearly 34 percent below the permissible amount.
The board did agree to seek legislative authorization of a new technology fee, which universities say is necessary to address Web-based education and wireless Internet expansion.
Janie Fouke, UF's provost, said she fully supports a technology fee at UF, where about $40 million a year is spent on technology. Fouke said she hadn't considered how much the fee should be.
The proposed technology fee did not sit well with Joe Goldberg, president of the University of Florida's Student Association and chairman of the Florida Student Association. Goldberg said he fears the fee would not be covered by the Bright Future's scholarship program, which helps fund tuition for 96 percent of UF's freshman class.
Tacking on more expenses beyond what Bright Futures will cover could price out some qualified students, Goldberg said.
"Students who haven't budgeted for this are going to be in for a surprise," said Goldberg, who is a voting member of the Board of Governors. "And we don't want students to be surprised."
The windfall for universities would be significant if a technology fee were introduced, board members said. During the 2005-2006 academic year, a technology fee of $1 per credit hour would have generated about $7 million.
The board has already agreed on another Legislative request aimed at upgrading technology at the state's 11 public universities. If the Legislature grants the $5.9 million request for 2006-2007, UF would receive $1 million - the largest cut of the pie.
The board has emphasized that there would be no technology fee or increased student fees without student consent. Under the plan, students would comprise half of an ad hoc committee that would vote on whether to introduce or raise fees.
Fouke said student involvement in the committee would be critical, but she expressed concern that some students might be disinclined to embrace higher fees - even if the fees were necessary.
"What makes me nervous about the composition of the committee is that the entity would have to tax itself for the common good," she said.
Talk of higher fees comes amid a statewide discussion about the lack of access to higher education for the state's poorest students. At UF, the majority of students - about 75 percent - come from families whose annual income exceeds $95,000. The other 15 percent, whose families make less than $40,000 each year, struggle to afford college even with the help of Bright Futures, UF President Bernie Machen has said. Machen recently instituted a scholarship program aimed at helping these students, and Gov. Jeb Bush is following suit at the state level.
"I personally have great concern (for those students)," said Fouke, who was the first in her family to graduate from college. "At the same time, the infrastructure has to be adequate."
In other board action, the board approved a policy that would require the board's approval before universities borrow money for projects.
The board also agreed to seek legislative authority to raise tuition for graduate and professional programs, and for out-of-state students. The board had this authority through a provision in last year's state budget, but the authority will expire June 30. The board's new plan would extend this authority indefinitely, negating the requirement for the Legislature to grant it annually.
Jack Stripling can be reached at 374-5064 or Jack.Stripling@gvillesun.com

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