Blocked by tuition

Student concerns about block tuition rates are simple. For most, it comes down to two things: grades and money.

Freshman Jessica Holden, who is undeclared, articulates the concern succinctly.

“It’s going to be difficult for people to keep their grades up if they are taking more classes than they planned,” she said.

Morgan Mallory, a freshman majoring in mechanical engineering, said he already takes 15 credit hours. “It just worked out that way this semester,” he said, adding that it may not always be that way. Last semester he took 12 credit hours.

If passed by the Legislature, block tuition would have him paying for a class he never took.

“That would have been $300 wasted,” he said. “It’s just another way for the university to get money.”

Student Steve Monti didn’t seem to care about the rates. He said that on a Bright Futures Scholarship that pays his entire tuition, he is covered no matter what he takes.

“Everybody who buys lottery tickets pays for my classes,” he said.

Twice a week, Monti commutes 45 minutes from New Port Richey. If he ever lost his scholarship and the school implemented the block tuition rates, he said he’d stop going to school.

“I think it’s unfair to students,” said Michele Wille, a senior majoring in business management, whose student loans pay for classes.

Wille works 30 hours a week as a pharmacy technician at Publix while taking 13 credit hours.

“It will probably force me to take more hours to get my money’s worth,” she said.

Taking more hours would cause her to work less and further depend on her loans to make ends meet. Block tuition may have a polarizing effect on students, with some taking less than nine hours in order to avoid the block and some taking more than usual.

“You almost have to be just going to school,” Wille said. “I thought you were doing good by taking at least 12 hours.”

Jeff Muir, associate vice president of University Relations, said this factors into the university’s proposal to the state Legislature that the university have control over where the tuition cap is set. He said he considers 14 a good cap for a school with a large number of part-time and commuter students.

“(What is considered) part time is different for financial aid programs, but essentially 15 is full time,” he said. But in reality, setting caps and what is delineating full time and part time “depends on the student.”

Muir said the school has been looking at financial models that show the university losing money because of the block tuition.

“If a student takes more than 15 hours, then we are giving away hours. We still have to pay the professor and the light bill,” he said.

It could also go the opposite direction, with students paying for hours they aren’t taking.

“We aren’t opposed to the concept,” he said. “But we don’t want to put a burden on students.”

Scott Ross, executive director of the Florida Student Association, said his job is to lobby on behalf of students at all state universities.

When the block tuition rates were proposed last year, “we defeated it,” Ross said. Since they are also being proposed this year, he is going to try to do the same thing again.

“I can’t predict how successful we’ll be. That is up to the Legislature.”