More protests than pizza parties over new student fees?

Published: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 10:44 p.m.

Last fall, University of California at Berkeley students barricaded themselves inside a campus building to protest fee hikes and budget cuts before being arrested.

At the University of Florida, the closest equivalent was a "study-in" last spring in an administrator's office in which students did homework and ate pizza before leaving quietly.

UF students have held other protests against budget cuts, but exhibited much less outrage than their California counterparts.

Clearly, the very different campus cultures are part of the reason.

Berkeley is the kind of place where protesters lived in trees for months to prevent them from being cut down to expand athletic facilities.

In Gainesville, a dozen Gator boosters would be out with chainsaws the morning after something like that started.

UF students have also shown a greater willingness to pay a greater rate of tuition than students in other states.

Part of the reason is that tuition here has long been a bargain.

Last week, Kiplinger's Personal Finance ranked UF second among the nation's public colleges in providing the best value for the cost.

The Bright Futures scholarship program is the main reason.

At UF, about 95 percent of incoming freshmen and 70 percent of all undergraduates have the scholarships.

The state scholarships have kept tuition artificially low for years, according to administrators. That started to change last year, when the state Legislature capped the scholarships and allowed state universities to raise tuition up to 15 percent annually.

UF is expected to increase tuition by the full allowable amount for the foreseeable future.

Fees are also on the rise. Last month, the UF Board of Trustees voted to increase all fees but the athletic fee in the next academic year.

Students will pay nearly $32 per credit hour in fees.

UF students could also be paying a new fee and other additional costs. UF officials are backing a proposed requirement that all state university students have health insurance.

State analysts estimate that could raise expenses for uninsured students up to 7 percent annually.

In addition, UF Student Government supports charging $20 per semester plus $2 or $3 per credit hour to pay for the renovation and expansion of the Reitz Union.

That fee, however, has faced resistance from some student government members and the Graduate Assistants United union.

At last month's trustees meeting, union members packed the room in a showing rarely seen at such meetings in recent years. Many wore "No new fees" buttons.

Just one trustee addressed their concerns, and he expressed confusion about whether the board had just raised fees. (They had.)

UF students aren't barricading themselves inside buildings yet, but student unhappiness about expenses seems to be growing.

In the years ahead, officials might have to expect more protests than pizza parties.

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