While public universities and the Florida Legislature may agree that tuition rates need to increase, there has been much debate over who should be in charge of implementing them.
The Florida Board of Governors (BOG), which oversees public higher education, has withdrawn support for a lawsuit that wanted to take tuition-setting power away from the Legislature and give it to the board.
The lawsuit, filed by former Florida Gov. Bob Graham in 2007, argued that the 2002 constitutional amendment establishing the BOG intended it to have that power, but the board never asserted its right.
It’s a shame the BOG withdrew its support because it should control tuition rates. An organization created for the express purpose of overseeing public colleges understands the needs of universities better than Florida Congressmen who have enough to worry about during a recession.
Under the current system, universities must cope with cuts in state funding and tuition rates set far below the national average. After begging, increases must go through the lengthy and uncertain legislative process.
Transferring authority to the BOG would make things simpler for all parties, yet the Legislature has consistently fought to protect its tuition-setting role. Only the government could keep tuition rates from getting out of hand, Ken Pruitt, president of the Florida Senate, said after the lawsuit was filed.
“This lawsuit is nothing more than an attempt to get unbridled tuition increases. God help our students if they win,” he said.
Congressmen are claiming they will be more sympathetic to the BOG now that it has dropped the lawsuit, essentially guaranteeing it will fail.
“This is a hand of friendship and cooperation that we are happy to grasp,” Sen. Don Gaetz said to the Miami Herald.
The BOG should not have caved. Before the BOG, the Board of Regents oversaw public higher education in Florida. In 2000, the Legislature abolished the group when it did not approve new medical and law schools, including a medical school at Florida State University.
Graham led the effort to create the BOG in 2002, but it has remained unclear who has the ultimate authority in tuition setting. Graham argued in the lawsuit that the Legislature should control tax dollars in the university system, but the BOG should set tuition.
He argued that the 2002 amendment was based on similar systems in states like Michigan and California. The state should give the BOG the authority to set tuition to fulfill its initial intent.