UF opposes bill that would hold tuition steady

Published: Friday, March 15, 2013 at 5:31 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 15, 2013 at 5:31 p.m.

Officials at the University of Florida have taken a stance against a bill moving through the Legislature that would guarantee in-state students their tuition and fees would not change for four years as long as they remain enrolled full time.

Gov. Rick Scott first promoted the "Finish in Four" concept in his budget proposal in January as a way to encourage students to graduate on time and keep higher education costs predictable for families.

UF administrators say such a program would mean revenue losses for UF of as much as $36 million annually after four years of the program.

According to an analysis of the bill by Board of Governors staff, the State University System stands to lose about $75 million in undergraduate tuition and fee revenue for the next four years if the bill were to pass.

UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said in order to avoid the hit to UF's revenue, the university would have to increase tuition from one year to the next at a time when it is trying to minimize tuition increases.

"Someone starting in 2015 could pay a markedly higher rate than someone starting in 2014, and someone starting in 2016 could pay a markedly higher rate than in 2015," Sikes said.

Sikes said it's too early to be speculating on the chances of the Legislature budgeting the $15 million that Scott has said he wants to give UF for it to pursue top-10 status in national rankings.

"We're waiting on the House and the Senate to release their budgets," she said.

Two other bills affecting higher education were approved this week by the state Senate Education Committee.

One of the bills outlines criteria for universities to achieve pre-eminence status. Pre-eminence among Florida's universities was a hot topic during last year's legislative session, with a bill granting pre-eminent universities broader tuition-setting power passing through the Legislature before being vetoed by Scott.

This year's language in SB 1720 doesn't grant universities more control over tuition. The highest ranking university — most likely UF — would establish an online arm that would lead the state's distance-learning push.

"We are optimistic, particularly in terms of the pre-eminence bill," Sikes said. "We are very much in favor of the concept."

Sikes said should UF be granted the top rank of pre-eminence, UF would welcome the charge to create an online arm, as it likely would come tied with additional funding that would allow the university to recruit top-notch faculty.

"That would move us in the right direction in terms of class sizes and research," she said.

Another bill approved by the committee would repeal a 2011 law that requires incoming college freshmen to fill out the Federal Application for Free Student Aid in order to get their Bright Future scholarships.

Contact Joey Flechas at 338-3166 or joey.flechas@gvillesun.com.

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