Less is more

With Gov. Jeb Bush’s budget released, the prospect of block tuition in the state of Florida grows nearer. The USF Board of Trustees met Monday afternoon to discuss the fiscal budget. The BOT touched on the growing concern of block tuition throughout state universities. If forced to follow the plan proposed to the state Board of Trustees, in-state universities would charge a block rate for students who sign up for nine or more hours.

According to a September 2004 release provided in the BOT meeting, each state university has responded with suggestions for the block tuition, if passed. Were the decision left to the USF Board of Trustees, most likely a 14 credit-hour cap would be placed on block tuition for undergraduate students. Block tuition for graduate students would be set at 11 credit hours. The University of North Florida does not recommend using the program whatsoever. Florida International University wants the authority left to the local Board of Trustees.

Schools who will be most affected by the block tuition would be those with many non-traditional students and commuters who aren’t enrolled full time, for which both USF and FIU are known.

“I think it all depends on where they set the critical number where you have to be full time or where you’re allowed more flexibility to enroll in fewer hours,” said Jeff Muir, associate vice president of University Relations.

The University of Central Florida hopes to adopt a 12-credit block tuition system. Were USF to adopt a similar system, the most likely outcome would be an increase in students taking less than 12 credit hours. For instance, if an undergraduate student takes three classes and a standard class at the recreation center, they will have 11 credits. This would put them below the cutoff for block tuition, and they would be charged per credit hour.

“When I was a student I would take 12 hours in the fall, 12 hours in the spring and six in the summer. If I was forced to pay for 15 hours when I was only taking 12, then it doesn’t really make much sense to take twelve; it makes sense to take 11,” Muir said.

One of the bright sides of the block tuition system is a student’s ability to graduate more quickly. The idea is for students to sign up for more hours in the event that they will have to pay for 15 credits while only taking nine. Undergrads taking 15 or more credits a semester will have the ability to graduate in four years.

“We’re trying to get flexibility so each university can adopt their own policy that works for them,” Muir said. “That is why our policy would be 14, but it still has a long way to go. There has to be enough choices, so that between A, B, C and D you’d have enough range to pick the program that makes sense for your university. If we have the time and the ability to really set the policy locally, it gives us the ability to spend more time and to know how exactly it’s going to affect us.”

Some universities, UCF being an example, would like to give students the opportunity to bank hours paid for but not taken. For instance, if a student takes 12 hours but pays for 15 within the block system, they would be able to take a summer class to fulfill those three credits without paying tuition for the class. This could cause conflicts with financial aid, namely the Florida Bright Futures program and prepaid college funds. Were the 14-credit proposal passed for USF, Bright Futures would be needed to supplement summer courses.

“Conceptually, this sounds great,” Muir said. “Then we started looking at the folks down in the trenches, whether in the provost’s office, registrar’s office, financial aid office, the people who administer programs like Bright Futures or prepaid tuition. Once you drill down to that level and take the time to look at that policy, it can be a real nightmare. That’s why we need the flexibility and the time to take a look at everything.”