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Resident state of mind

A bill is being moved through the state Legislature that could affect what the state considers an in-state student.

House Bill 119 is customized to represent students whose parents are not American citizens. These students, if they attend Florida public high schools, would be allowed to pay in-state, rather than out-of-state, tuition to attend USF.

“It’s narrowly tailored to a specific group of students dealing with people whose parents aren’t necessarily citizens of this country,” said Scott Ross, executive director of the Florida Student Association. “These students attended a Florida high school and they were residents of an area in Florida, and the bill will allow them to receive in-state tuition based on that fact.”

The bill opens doors for a group of students who may not have been able to afford to attend if forced to pay out-of state tuition.

“I think it’s good that students are going to be able to attend college who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to attend,” Ross said.

Student body President Bijal Chhadva voiced a similar view.

“It will be beneficial to the students who have lived in the country for a while,” Chhadva said. “They will be able to pay in-state tuition, so they will definitely improve enrollment, increase retention rates and give more students the opportunity to go to college.”

While the bill seems to have an immediate upside, there are drawbacks and ways the system can be manipulated. According to the bill itself, a point made in Section 3 states that “a person who is classified as a nonresident for tuition purposes may become eligible for reclassification as a resident for tuition purposes if that person is a dependent child and his or her parent presents documentation that supports permanent residence in this state rather than temporary residency for the purpose of pursuing an education, such as documentation of full-time permanent employment for the previous 12 months or the purchase of a home in this state and residence therein for the prior of 12 months.”

This means that a person who has only been domicile and held a job or owned property could qualify their children for in-state tuition purposes at USF.

“I’m always nervous that you’ll have people that come into the country for a year, finish their senior year of high school and then potentially take advantage of the in-state tuition,” Ross said. “But as long as you don’t see a lot of these things happening, I don’t really see a down side to it.”

Financially, USF could take a hit because of the decreasing number of out-of-state tuition students.

“That would mean less out-of-state tuition that the state of Florida and USF would receive,” Chhadva said. “That could be a potential downfall.”

The bill originally had notes regarding block tuition and accelerated graduation. All entries regarding these two issues were stricken from the bill.

“We, and several groups, spoke with Representative Zapata and portrayed our case to him. And he agreed and took it out of the bill,” Ross said. “It wasn’t something he was interested in co-mingling with his bill.”

Although the entries were taken out of the bill, the issues still remain a hot topic in the Legislature.

“We are lobbying legislatures to keep (block tuition and additional credit fees) from being passed by the Legislature,” Chhadva said. “We are just hoping that the Legislature will finally have the authority to make that decision. We would rather have elected rather than appointed people make decisions.”

The Board of Governors is already implementing block tuition, but the issue at hand is whether or not individual university Board of Trustees will have the authority to implement its own plan. If USF was given the authority to implement its own plan, block tuition would most likely begin at and after 14 credit hours. If each Florida university is forced to follow the BOG’s plan, block tuition would take effect after 12 credit hours.

Another issue being implemented by the BOG is accelerated graduation. This bill will charge students 125 percent of in-state tuition if they go over their allotted credits to graduate by 15 percent.

If a student needed 120 credits to graduate within their major but went 15 percent–or 18 credits–over the limit that student would be charged extra. This is an attempt to move students along within their respected programs.

“There are people in the Legislature and there are legislative leaders who think there are certain students who are taking advantage of the system by staying in school a long time and not graduating taking someone else’s spot, so to speak,” Ross said.