University presidents: No tuition hikes if $118M in state funding
Published: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at 11:41 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at 11:41 a.m.
TALLAHASSEE — State university presidents seem to have decided if they can't beat Gov. Rick Scott on tuition, they might as well join him.
Those presidents pledged Wednesday that they wouldn't seek tuition increases next year if they received an equivalent amount in performance-based funding. At a Capitol news conference, they highlighted their commitment to Scott's goals such as increasing science and technology degrees in making the case for new state funding.
"The point of this is we need new resources," UF President Bernie Machen said. "After five years of cuts, the state system is crying out for new resources. Students realize it, and the universities are certainly asking for it."
A student-led campaign, "Aim Higher," will be used to try to convince the governor and lawmakers. UF Student Government President T.J. Villamil, who developed the idea, said rallies at every state university campus and social media will be part of the effort.
"I think people are very energized for the first time, and we're all on board together," he said. "We're presenting a unified front, which I think is the most important thing."
Scott repeatedly has spoken against tuition increases, even as state university funding was slashed this year by $300 million and tuition remains among the nation's lowest. Scott vetoed a bill that would have let UF seek unlimited increases and he will get increasing influence with new appointments to the university system's governing body, the Board of Governors.
Scott's office released a statement from the governor applauding higher education leaders for committing to holding the line on tuition. It made no reference to whether the governor would support additional state funding for universities.
"We look forward to working closely with them as we put together a proposed budget and other policies for the upcoming legislative session," the statement said.
The state's 12 universities are seeking $118 million in additional funding in the next academic year, the same amount they would have received if they imposed the maximum 15 percent tuition increases allowed by law. The funding would be tied to the performance measures of universities, another one of Scott's goals.
"There's enough in here for everyone to get a little bit of what they want," Machen said.
He said he thought the proposal was under serious consideration. It's part of a legislative budget request approved last month by the Board of Governors at a meeting in which one member of the group first discussed the idea of the pledge publicly.
"The state is going to have new resources this year based on the budget," Machen said. "The question is, will they consider this a critical need?"
The pledge and campaign were announced at a news conference that featured eight state university presidents and several student government leaders. Participants said the university presidents who were absent also were committed to the idea and that they couldn't recall a similar instance of such unity in recent years.
Machen, who is retiring next year, previously had sought passage of the bill, which would have allowed UF and Florida State University to seek higher tuition increases for meeting certain benchmarks. He said the pledge not to seek an increase was a one-year deal that acknowledged tough economic times.
He compared it to UF's request this year for a 9 percent tuition increase that ended up being the lowest in the state. But he said to improve UF over time would require a combination of increased state funding and tuition, other revenue and becoming more efficient.
"There's no magic bullet here to changing things around," Machen said.
Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/nathancrabbe.