Block tuition may not be needed, Machen says
Published: Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 6:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 19, 2011 at 11:25 a.m.
University of Florida President Bernie Machen said Wednesday that improved graduation rates might make block tuition unnecessary.
Block tuition would charge a flat rate to full-time undergraduates, replacing the current system in which they pay by the credit hour. Machen said the plan was intended to encourage students to graduate faster, but graduation rates already have improved.
"We're taking a second look at whether block tuition is necessary," he said.
The four-year graduation rate for students entering UF in 2006 was 64 percent, compared with 58 percent for students entering the previous year. Machen said the university's counseling system or an economic downturn that forced more students to pay their own tuition might have factored into the increase.
UF trustees already have approved block tuition but, in the face of student opposition, delayed its implementation until fall 2012. Machen said a decision on whether block tuition is now necessary would be made at a trustees meeting next month.
He made the comments Wednesday in a wide-ranging interview with local media as the start of the fall semester approaches Monday. He defended his plan to give employees a 3 percent raise contingent on cuts to their leave and criticized a Board of Governors proposal to establish regions for state universities.
With his contract winding down, Machen said he'd discuss the timing of his retirement with trustees in December.
In the wake of controversies involving the influence of money in college athletics, he said he thought the student-athlete model of college sports was worth maintaining and rejected the idea of paying athletes.
He also said he's considering ways to increase stipends for graduate students, saying that UF provides graduate students with less money to live on than its peers. The university already has taken the step of providing graduate students with health care and now should look at increasing their stipends, he said.
"Obviously if we're going to recruit the best graduate students, we've got to step up and do that," he said.
This week, the union for UF graduate assistants announced a campaign to eliminate graduate student fees. Machen said graduate students had been exempted from some recent fee increases but that eliminating fees entirely might not be possible because the university's budget already has accounted for them. Increasing stipends would have the same net effect, he said.
Machen also discussed his plan to boost employees' pay by 3 percent to offset a new state requirement that they contribute the same amount to their retirement plans. The raise, which trustees also will consider next month, is contingent on cuts to employee leave.
The proposal would reduce vacations by 40 hours a year and cut the amount of unused vacation time paid to employees leaving the university. With some employees criticizing the fairness of the exchange, Machen said he still thought the plan had support and would be implemented in September for employees making less than $75,000.
"I'm pretty optimistic that there's an overall positive sense that the lower-paid employees need and should get this raise," he said.
The leave changes would not apply to nine-month faculty, who don't accrue vacation. Machen said changes to sick-leave payouts would be the next step in January in giving a raise for employees making more than $75,000. Changes still would need to be negotiated with the union representing most faculty.
Machen also continued criticism of a Board of Governors plan to establish eight regions for the state's 11 universities. Under the proposal, universities starting an academic program with a substantial physical presence in another region would first need to notify university presidents there. The state university system chancellor or board would need to resolve any disputes.
A task force that includes UF Provost Joe Glover meets Monday to consider possible changes to the proposed regulation. Machen said he supports improved communication between universities, but that the regulation went about it in a way that's not going to work.
"I think there is a way to achieve what they want to achieve, but this regulation is not the way to do that," he said.
Machen last week attended an NCAA summit on college athletics with more than 50 college presidents. As colleges face controversies over improper benefits to players, Machen said he saw no wavering in support for the student-athlete model.
"These are students first and then athletes," he said. "We are not interested in making it into a professional model where we pay students."
Machen said his contract has about 1½ years remaining and that he probably would discuss his retirement with trustees in December. He said he hasn't talked about it with the board yet.
"My wife talks about it a lot," he said.
Contact Nathan Crabbe at firstname.lastname@example.org.