Tuition could see hefty increase

A commercial for the Florida Lottery announces the weekly jackpot along with its contributions to education. Another commercial for the Florida Prepaid College Program shows a girl encouraging her parents to save early for her education. A commercial for possible tuition increases doesn’t exist.

The now defunct Florida Board of Education proposed a tuition increase that could result in a maximum 12.5 percent increase for the next academic year. If the state Legislature endorses Education Secretary Jim Horne’s recommendations, tuition will increase 7.5 percent and allow individual universities to increase tuition by another 5 percent.

But these are not the only recommendations that could affect universities and community colleges in Florida after the Legislature’s decision in March. The possibility exists that Florida Bright Futures Scholarships will be cut back and the Florida Prepaid College program eliminated.

The reason behind one of the largest tuition increases in the past decade is to keep up with tuition cost and fees, along with educational standards.

Bill Edmonds, director of communication for FBOE, said Florida universities rank 48th in the nation for the lowest tuition and fees cost. Edmonds added that the number of baccalaureate degrees earned in the state should be higher. In 1999-2000, 1,235 baccalaureate degrees were earned per every 100,000 students in the nation. In Florida, 847 students earned degrees.

If tuition increases from Florida’s average of $2,691 per year to the national average of state university costs, which is $4,260 per year, Edmonds said more resources would be available for Florida universities.

“If we want to meet the national average of baccalaureate degrees we need to be at the average of tuition and fees,” Edmonds said. “Just look at the operation of the university. It’s a city unto itself. There are a lot of demands for resources if you want to maintain the high quality of university. There’s a lot of financial need.”

“And financial aid for students is something the FBOE is trying to increase as well,” Edmonds said. However, the Higher Education Funding Advisory Council is proposing a change in Bright Futures scholarships that could award less money to students in the next academic year. The FBOE says because a large number of lottery-funded scholarships have been awarded during the past few years, tuition should increase.

In 2001-02, there were 98,294 Bright Futures scholars. Edmonds said that by lowering that number, more money can be invested in financial aid.

This year, more than 8,000 students at USF pay for tuition with the scholarship, according to Marsha Strickhouser, USF media relations coordinator. Leonard Gude, director for Financial Aid, said students have more opportunities to earn a higher education with the availability of Bright Futures.

“From my perspective, it has made it more possible for students who might have elected to go to a community college to go to a state university,” Gude said. “Because there was a lower out-of-pocket cost for the student. The program has made the students more mobile … because they have more money toward the cost of tuition and books, they may be electing to live in an apartment or on campus and may be able to attend an institute that is not located in their hometown.”

If the Board of Trustees decides to raise tuition an additional 5 percent, Gude said students who receive financial aid could benefit. Gude said some of the money collected from the 5 percent increase goes toward need-based and merit-based programs at the university.

Edmonds said with any tuition raise, 20 percent of the increase goes to financial aid at a specific university.

BOT chairman Dick Beard did not return repeated phone calls.Mike Griffin, student body president, said he’s not sure how large a tuition increase would be, but he will try to limit tuition increases by the Board as much as possible.

“I’m against any increase that is double digits,” Griffin said. “(The Board) will definitely listen to me and take it seriously. I have to make sure I do my job a little better than last year.”

If the BOT calls for an additional increase, Griffin said he wants to ensure the money is used for student needs in academic advising, moving classes held in the University Mall movie theaters back to campus and protecting the Bright Futures program.

The Florida Prepaid College Program is another financial-aid-based program that may be looking for protection if the Legislature accepts the FBOE’s recommendations. If the education department restructures the program to deal with rising tuition then students in the fall would be affected the most. Universities will still honor existing contracts.

Strickhouser said about 2,000 students at USF used Florida Prepaid for classes this academic year. Gude said a change in Prepaid wouldn’t affect current members.

“Any changes made to Prepaid, from what I’ve read, will not affect currently enrolled students,” Gude said. “It will impact students who are not yet eligible to participate in that program.”

Bonnie Hayflick, account supervisor for the Florida Prepaid College Program, said Stanley G. Tate, chairman for the Prepaid Board, would not answer questions from the media. However, Hayflick said the FBOE’s proposals have not decreased enrollment in the Prepaid Program.

Hayflick stated through e-mail that the Prepaid Program began taking calls for new enrollment plans Nov. 18 and has received more than 44,000 calls for inquires about investment plans.

Edmonds said he has no predictions of what the Legislature’s decisions will be or how soon tuition increases would improve Florida’s education system. But the goal, Edmonds said, is to raise tuition gradually during the next 10 years in order to meet national standard in education.

“It all depends what’s put in place,” Edmonds said. “No magical transformation is going to occur when you hit the national average. To provide more resources to universities, students and families will have to start paying more.”