During the first week of Florida’s legislative session, Gov. Jeb Bush recommended that state universities have more flexibility to control tuition rates for graduate and out-of-state students. However, returning tuition money from in-state students may not be as flexible.
Jeff Muir, director for government relations at USF, said, in the past, the Legislature allowed universities to keep a majority of tuition money. But this year, most of the money may have to be used for other priorities.
The money, which is normally used for university improvements, will have to be set aside to pay for growth increase in state universities.
“Part of the reason is because we are not out of the recession,” Muir said. “We have always argued for tuition money to stay on campus.”
Muir said the Legislature has not taken any action because they are just looking at the governor’s recommendations and analyzing the budget.
USF will be focusing on receiving funding for students from the state during this legislative session because of the significant amount of students it received last year. According to the USF Web site, last year there were 35,890 students for all USF campuses, and now the enrollment is about 37,000.
Muir said USF is one of the top universities in Florida to have a higher enrollment than funding received for its students.
“It’s right up there,” Muir said. “If it’s not the highest, in the top couple.”
Jack Wheat, special assistant to USF President Judy Genshaft, said the state failed to provide funding for 1,300 full-time USF students last year.
Wheat said the state usually distributes excess student funding from universities with lagging enrollment numbers and gives it to universities that are above enrollment. But this year, the system changed, Wheat said, and the state did not distribute the money.
“The game changed on us,” Wheat said. “But it is good news because it says something about our quality of education.”Wheat said that is why it is important that the university continues to receive its tuition money to improve education and deal with budget cuts.
“We want to make sure we can use tuition money to enhance education for the students,” Wheat said. “(But) it is not ours to control.”
In addition, the Legislature plans to focus on reorganizing responsibilities for the board of trustees for all state universities. Muir said the process is called the devolution, which is dividing responsibilities between the boards of trustees and Florida Board of Education. The divided responsibilities will involve policy that allows the boards to have control over issues and decisions for the university.
Muir said the Legislature plans to complete the second phase of abolishing the Board of Regents by looking at the governance the universities need to have.
Wheat said most of the decision- making authority from the BOR was transferred to the FBOE last session because the Legislature ran out of time.
Wheat said the set of powers given to each university’s board of trustees is expected to be written the same.
One responsibility the board may receive is the administration of human resource activities, which could have the potential to improve benefits for faculty and staff.
Wheat said it is important that all universities under a board of trustees be able to oversee policy and direction.Muir said the big issue is the Legislature’s decision on how to allocate that money.
“It changes every year based on the economy,” he said.