Tuition rate increase approved

Published: Thursday, January 24, 2008 at 2:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 24, 2008 at 2:18 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida university and college students could pay about $400 more per year in tuition starting next fall under a proposal approved Thursday by a state education committee.

Almost a third of the money brought in by the tuition increase would go to need-based financial aid under the plan. The rest would be used to hire and retain faculty in an effort to change an embarrassing statistic: Florida's universities have the worst student to faculty ratio in the country.

State universities are concerned about fewer tax dollars coming their way, with the state's impending budget crisis. Last year's university budget was basically flat after cuts in the fall. But after inflation and student growth were factored in, officials said schools essentially saw their budgets decrease by 9 percent.

The plan still must be approved by the full Board of Governors, which oversees the state's university system. But more than half the board was on the budget committee that voted 5-4 to send the increase proposal to the full panel. If approved, the increase would raise $56 million in the first year.

Board member Gus Stavros, who isn't on the board's budget committee, said he was embarrassed by the system's inability to attract the best faculty because of low budgets.

"I have never been involved with a mediocre institution in my life," he said. "This country was not made great by mediocre people. ... We have to have quality faculty, professors, we have to raise tuition."

The exact amount of the increase isn't set because it is tied to other states' tuition, but university officials said the increase would likely be about $440 per student per year the first year.

Florida ranks last among the states in four-year tuition and fees charged by public universities at about $3,361 per undergraduate student. The average tuition nationwide is about $6,200 a year.

The proposal before the board would raise that to rank Florida about 39th in the nation, just above Mississippi.

Another proposal approved by the board's budget committee Thursday basically directs the schools to be ready for state budget cuts, telling them to keep their admissions lower than they otherwise might until they know how much money they have. The full board will take up the plan later Thursday.

University spokesman Bill Edmonds said the system needs to hire about 2,000 faculty to raise its faculty-student ratio from its current 31-to-1 to the national average of 25-to-1.

The proposal would get the system there and an increase of "$220 a semester is not a backbreaker" for students, Edmonds said.

If enrollment in the state's university system were to be less next year than it is this year, it would be the first drop in the number of college students in the state in modern memory, Edmonds said.

Several board members said they understood the difficulty the Legislature faces with tax collections dropping nearly every time state economists revise their forecasts.

A tuition increase is "a difficult decision," said the board's chairwoman, Carolyn Roberts. But with the money currently available, "it is very difficult to compete with the great systems of the country."

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