Six tuition proposals go to governor for approval

SARASOTA – Block tuition rates could become a reality in the near future for Florida students after the state’s Board of Governors voted Thursday to recommend Gov. Jeb Bush approve the new policy.

Under the board’s proposal, each of the state’s 11 public universities would set a minimum number of credit hours between nine and 12 to determine which students would pay a flat rate per semester. All students taking the minimum number of credits would pay as if they were taking 15 credit hours, whether they took that many or not.

Block tuition was one of six new tuition measures included in the recommendation. Other proposals include: a $100 fee for students dropping more than one class per year, left optional for the universities’ boards of trustees; a ceiling on combined tuition and fees for resident undergraduates; a 25 percent surcharge for credits beyond 110 percent of degree requirements; and university discretion to set tuition for out-of-state, graduate and non-degree-seeking students.

The only vote from the board against the proposed policies came from student representative Jarrett Eady, a Florida State University graduate student who said he feared the new policies would make it tougher on students struggling to stay in school.

Eady was critical of charging full-time students a flat rate for their tuition, rather than charging per credit hour.

“If we asked our residents to pay utility bills on a flat rate, not by what you use, you’d have massive insurrection in the streets,” he said.

Carolyn Roberts, chairwoman of the BOG, responded by saying that the board has the best interest of students and taxpayers in mind with the proposals.

“It would be wonderful if we could allow people to take as many classes as they want and have the taxpayers underwrite it,” she said. But, she added, “We have to move students through the system.”

Roberts also said that students disagreeing with the recommendations should keep in mind the fact that about 75 percent of their education costs are already subsidized by the states.

While Florida is generally recognized as one of the most affordable states for college students, the universities are badly overcrowded and destined to become more so.

Roberts said the new policies would make it financially attractive for students to quickly complete their course work rather than linger on campus, constantly switching majors or taking just a few classes at a time.

While the policies don’t discuss specific numbers — those would be set by the legislature in the annual budgeting process this spring — the new guidelines would be a significant shift in how state universities deal with issues of tuition and campus overcrowding, board members said.

Roberts said there is such a demand for four-year degrees at Florida’s 11 state universities that without some mechanism to keep students moving efficiently through the system, the state is going to be faced with building more branch campuses or another institution.

In other Board of Governors business:

–The Board received a report that state universities sustained more than $50 million in damage from the four hurricanes that battered Florida in August and September. The University of West Florida in Pensacola sustained the worst damage with $30 million in losses.

— The Board was presented with a proposal from state Rep. Kevin Ambler to provide scholarships for postgraduate students. The “Sure Futures” program, which may be considered by lawmakers and the governor this spring, would pair Florida businesses seeking skilled workers with students, who would be guaranteed a scholarship and future employment if they meet high standards.

The aim is to keep talented students in such high-demand areas as biotechnology in Florida. The companies would get a corporate tax credit matching their financial commitment to the program.

Associated Press information was used in this report.