Budget woes stymied

Gov. Jeb Bush on Tuesday proposed a $93 million increase in spending for Florida’s state universities, alleviating, at least temporarily, financial setbacks suffered from last month’s special session-induced budget cuts.

A special session called in December because of slow economic growth resulted in state university budget cuts of more than $83 million.

Bush acknowledged, however, that there were no assurances that the economy will rebound and said other parts of the new state budget will likely remain flat in order to boost spending for the next school year.

The proposal to increase in spending, however, comes with a 5 percent tuition increase.

Carl Carlucci, vice president for Budgets, Human Resources and Information Technologies, isn’t concerned about the increase. He called it minimal, maintaining that public higher education in Florida is still more affordable than other states.

“This just reinforces that we need to keep enrollment strong,” Carlucci said. “But most will still say, ‘My education is well worth the investment,’ because public education in Florida is a great buy.”

But will the university be able to maintain a growing enrollment with a hike in tuition? Carlucci said yes, and typically, when there is a minor increase in tuition, enrollment is unaffected.

“We’re not talking about a 25 percent increase at a private school that charges $30,000 per year (in tuition),” Carlucci said.

USF has felt first hand the effects of statewide budget cuts. Cuts have forced nearly 5,500 students to take classes at the University Mall movie theaters this semester until the university secures more money to build new buildings. Other cut-influenced changes include a yet-to-be determined reduction of summer class offerings and hiring freezes and earlier closing times at the Tampa campus Library.

Carlucci said the average cost per credit, minus fees, for an in-state student is $55. He said the average student takes 12 credits per semester, meaning after adding the 5 percent increase, the average student will be $66 poorer after the completion of Spring 2003.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, further emphasizes Carlucci’s point: Compared to other schools nationwide, USF’s tuition increase pales in comparison.

Its Web site, reports the two colleges with the highest tuition increases are Texas Southern University and the University of Montana, with 36.9 percent and 35.4 percent respectively.

Susan MacManus, a USF government and international affairs professor and political expert, said the proposal to spend $93 million more on state universities could have been influenced by the upcoming gubernatorial election in November. She said Florida has a confusing way of budgeting, wherein money is moved around, being drawn from a pool of different funds and replaced. In essence, she said, the $93 million being spent to alleviate the $83 million won’t necessarily mean $10 million more than originally budgeted.

MacManus did agree with Carlucci about the tuition increase, saying that Florida has stayed away from large increases such as that of TSU and UM.

“People can deal with incremental increases much more than they can deal with drastic ones,” MacManus said. “Any additional cost is always a concern to students, but Florida has been much more attentive to students as compared to other states.”

Carlucci said it all comes down to students, who are consumers on a college market, deciding what is a cost-efficient education.

“The way (a student) will make a decision is, ‘How does it compare to other places?'” Carlucci said. ” Even with a 5 percent increase, we’ve still got a good deal.”

  • The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Contact Ryan Meehan at oraclemanaging@yahoo.com