Gov. Scott recommends 5 percent tuition increase cap

By Divya Kumar NEWS EDITOR
On April 18, 2012

Though Gov. Rick Scotts signing of the $70.8 billion budget saw $1 billion allocated to K-12 education, Floridas public universities lost $300 million in funding and faces a suggested 5 percent tuition hike.

The budget currently allocates $145 million to USF Tampa in state funding, a $39.1 million cut from last year and $105.6 million less than 2007, when they contributed $250.6 million.

The total impact of the cut wont be clear until Scott officially decides whether USF Polytechnic is to immediately split into the independent Florida Polytechnic, which he said will be decided Friday, but kept $33 million in the budget for Florida Polytechnic. Yet the total impact on USFs cuts will also depend on the Board of Trustees and Board of Governors (BOG) decisions in regards to increasing differential tuition.

With the budget, Scott signed a 5 percent increase in tuition for the Florida College System and recommended the BOG limit the cap on tuition differential increases which is authorized up to 15 percent a year to 5 percent for state universities as well.

USF Provost Ralph Wilcox said while maintaining accessibility to students is important, the University would suffer without a full 15 percent increase. The Legislature this year did not increase base tuition, but built their budget around the assumption that Universities would adopt the full 15 percent differential increase for undergraduates and 8 percent for graduate students and out-of-state undergraduate students, he said.

To his credit, (Scotts) initial budget recommendation included no reductions to the State University System, and I was delighted at that point in time because he was a man of his word there, Wilcox said. He said hes not going to cut the budget, so he doesnt see the need for tuition to increase. What happened is the Legislature moved forward and cut our budget, which he approved, but they cut our budget with the assumption we would have the authority to increase tuition 15 percent at the undergraduate level or 8 percent at the graduate level.

At a 5 percent increase, Wilcox said the University would be forced to cut back on its offerings. If a 15 percent differential tuition were allocated, USF would see $17 million re-injected into its budget.

If the governor is successful in his lobbying and the $17 million, which is what we project to be the (15 percent increase in) differential tuition, is cut to a third, and we end up with $6 million instead of $17 million, were going to have to reduce the number of classes were offering, he said. Were probably not going to have as many full professors teaching those classes. Were going to have to look at cost containment in a whole variety of ways.

But even with the full 15 percent differential tuition increase, which the USF administration will request the Board of Trustees to approve Thursday, is adopted, Wilcox said the budget still wont be filled.

The irony is, Florida statute says the revenue from differential fees must be used to enhance undergraduate education, he said. Well, that cant happen when youve got a $37 million cut and $17 million in projected (differential) tuition revenue. How on earth can you enhance? Youre not even treading water or maintaining the status quo.

For now, BOG Chairman Dean Colson said money would come from the universities reserve funds.

The Board of Governors recognizes there are real and abiding budget challenges that the State is facing, he said. While this budget represents less direct funding for the universities, we appreciate the stated commitment of legislative leadership that the $300 million reduction will be restored to the baseline next year. Our Universities will continue to tap their reserves year-round in order to save course offerings, retain faculty and account for enrollment growth, among other critical demands.

If the full 15 percent increase is approved, an undergraduate, in-state student taking 30 credit hours per year currently paying $5,806, would pay $6,437 next year.

But the cuts would also make it difficult for the University to maintain its faculty, he said.

When their equipment breaks down or they dont have the same sort of state-of-the-art equipment, ... then they cant compete and theyre going to look for greener pastures that can provide them with the infrastructure they need to be successful, he said. Interestingly, in most of those cases, theyre not asking for salary increases. Theyre just saying Please, in order for my graduate or undergraduate students to be successful, we need some upgraded lab instrumentation and equipment.

The total amount of money USF receives will depend on whether USF Polytechnic is immediately split into Florida Polytechnic University.

If Polytechnic were to be separated, USF would receive a recurring $6 million for the College of Pharmacy and $10 million for the reintegration of Polytechnic faculty and staff into the USF System over five years. If Scott were to veto the bill, Polytechnic would remain a part of USF and would transition to an independent university following the five-year timeline established by the BOG in November.

As you know, Gov. Rick Scott signed the states budget today, USF President Judy Genshaft wrote in an email to faculty and staff Tuesday. His actions create some exciting opportunities for the University of South Florida. At the same time, the budget includes an unprecedented cut to the state appropriation for all state universities. I will write again as we know more about the question of whether the governor will approve the proposed Florida Polytechnic University which he did not address today.

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