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BOG to talk tuition, health care

A 7 percent in-state tuition increase, mandatory student health insurance and a report highly critical of the condition of the Florida state university system will all be on the Board of Governors’ plate when it meets today and Thursday in Boca Raton.

It will also consider funding proposals for additional facilities at USF, including $35 million for a new Visual and Performing Arts Center, $62 million for an Interdisciplinary Science Teaching and Research Facility and $9 million for a new Science and Technology Building at USF St. Petersburg.

The BOG, which oversees Florida’s 11 state universities, will meet at Florida Atlantic University days after a report by independent consultant Pappas Consulting Group Inc. harshly criticized the Board for failing to plan and implement an effective strategy for Florida’s higher education needs.

Key to the report was that Florida’s state university system (SUS) has focused too little on undergraduate education and too much on research. It also stated that Bright Futures and Florida Prepaid will “bankrupt” the SUS unless reformed. The report also recommended that the USF St. Petersburg branch campus become a standalone university.

Pappas Consulting CEO Alceste Pappas will present the report’s findings for general review today. The BOG will also hold a public discussion about the report next month at the University of Central Florida.

“At the moment, it’s a report, and only that,” Vice Provost Ralph Wilcox said. “It makes some observations and recommendations, and we’ll have to make decisions about it.”

Tuition Increase

One of the serious problems identified in the report was a lack of financial resources. Florida Bright Futures and Florida Prepaid scholarships have worked to make the state’s tuition one of the lowest in the nation, which means that a relatively small amount of funding comes from tuition, Wilcox said. The remedy for this is more funding on the state side, but that has not happened, Wilcox said. According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, Florida ranks 36th in state spending on higher education per capita.

The cumulative effect is less money spent per student in Florida than in other states. Unless that changes, Florida will find it difficult to give students an education that competes with the best in the nation and world, Wilcox said.

“(The SUS) in general is just not there at the moment,” Wilcox said. “As a system we don’t provide students with the world class system of high-quality education we feel they so richly deserve.”

While a tuition increase would provide more funds, it will have little effect without a commensurate commitment from the state to invest more in higher education, said USF student body President Frank Harrison, whose position as chair of the Board of Directors of the Florida Student Association makes him the only student member with a seat on the BOG.

“Overall, we have a very low amount of money invested in higher education especially when you compare it to the amount of money in the state, in our gross state product,” Harrison said.

Of the SUS’s revenue, 31 percent comes from tuition and 69 percent comes from the state, which Harrison said he could support, even with a tuition increase, as long as the state kicks in its fair share.”Those percentages can remain the same, but the overall amount of money in the pot should go up,” Harrison said.

Any tuition increase the BOG recommends must first be approved by the Florida Legislature. The recommendation would likely change before it would be incorporated into the budget. Last year, lawmakers passed a 3 percent tuition increase after the BOG’s 10 percent recommendation.

Student Health InsuranceBeginning summer 2007, all incoming and transfer students at Florida State University will be required to have health care.

An update on the progress and success of this initiative will be presented to the BOG’s Student Affairs Committee on Thursday.

Under FSU’s plan, students who don’t have an insurance policy comparable to the one offered by the university will be required to purchase the university’s plan. According to the FSView/Florida Flambeau, FSU’s student newspaper, the school’s policy will add an estimated $1,300 to student fees. It would, however, protect students who have major health care costs while in college. If they have a serious health problem, they won’t have to pay the associated costs out of pocket and can continue to pay for their education.

“There are advantages and disadvantages to both,” Harrison said.