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BOT subcommittee approves rate increases

A subcommittee of the USF Board of Trustees approved a 20 percent increase in parking permit rates and a 7 percent increase in on-campus housing rates Thursday.

Freshman Clayton Swickert said he’s feeling the crunch.

“They’re continuing to make college more expensive for us,” said Swickert, who is majoring in electrical engineering. “It makes the little guy feel a bit squeezed on.”

The Finance and Audit Workgroup also approved the financing of a new $76 million student resident facility as well as amendments to the BOT’s list of proposed projects to construct needed buildings.”A lot was done,” Executive Vice President Carl Carlucci said. “It was a very extensive agenda.”

All approvals made by the Workgroup must receive the go-ahead at the BOT’s general meeting in March.

Administrators said the extra money from the parking rate hike would finance the debt on existing and planned parking garages. Higher housing rates go toward the 1,000-bed Magnolia II Apartments and a program to create learning areas in the residence halls.

Last year, the BOT approved the Workgroup’s recommendations for a 20 percent parking permit increase and housing rate increases from 4 to 6 percent, depending on the residence hall.

Senior Johnny Ryan said he understands the reasons for the rate hikes.

“Students shouldn’t expect the USF of the future to be the same price as today,” said Johnny Ryan, a senior majoring in geography.

Parking Permit Increase

The Parking and Transportation Services proposal would raise the price of parking permits for students, faculty and staff at the USF Tampa and St. Petersburg campuses for the academic year beginning fall 2007. The increased rates would help pay the debt needed to finance the construction of three existing parking garages and a fourth planned garage, Parking and Transportation Services Director Manuel Lopez said.

“It’s going to finance the garages,” Lopez said. “Nothing else.”

Annual non-resident student permits would go up $25, from $126 to $151, and annual resident permits would go up $31, from $156 to $187. Prices for faculty Gold Staff permits would increase $62, from $342 to $410.

Sophomore Cassidy Comantigue said she hasn’t seen much benefit from the fee increases.

“I get on campus at 11 (a.m.) and there is nowhere to park,” Comantigue said. “We’re not even going to see these changes because they’ll just help kids five or 10 years in the future.”

Last year, USF sold nearly 46,500 permits, but has only 19,000 spots on campus. With enrollment expected to increase in the future, the disparity will grow unless new garages are built, USF student body President Frank Harrison said after the meeting.

“What do we hear more complaints about?” Harrison said. “How much people are paying for parking, or how hard it is to find a space on campus. Students want more spaces.”

Harrison also pointed to higher parking rates at five other state universities. The University of Central Florida has the priciest parking in the state at $305 for annual non-resident permits, access fees included. USF charges $216 after the access rate has been added.

“There’s no free lunch,” Harrison said. “There’s no free parking garage.”Oscar Ramirez, a senior majoring in biomedical science, said high parking rates led him to choose the cheaper park-and-ride permit.

“I refuse to pay that much,” Ramirez said. “The park-and-ride service is pretty good. I just get there 15 minutes early and take the bus to class.”

The Workgroup considered a proposal to increase parking rates 20 percent a year for the next five years, but decided only to approve a 20 percent increase for the current academic year and vote on further increases one year at a time. A vocal group of USF employees and students opposed the measure and submitted a petition with 1,500 signatures to the BOT before last year’s Workgroup meeting.

Housing Increase

The 7 percent housing rate increase would apply to all Tampa residence halls beginning in the fall.

It would raise approximately $1 million, which would go toward funding the new 1,000-bed Magnolia II apartment-style residence hall and a program to create learning communities by putting classrooms and professors in residence halls.

Residence Services has been working with the College of Arts and Sciences on a program to place faculty members in residence halls, where they would live and teach students.

“It’s not a new concept across the country and has proved to be extremely beneficial in the retention of students until graduation,” said Jennifer Meningall, the vice president of Student Affairs.

Putting these concepts into practice might take a few years. Residence Services has appointed a task force comprised of administrators, faculty and students to research other colleges, such as Kansas University, which has similar programs.

“We’re still trying to gain a greater understanding of what it is to live and learn in this sort of environment,” said James Dragna, associate vice president of Student Affairs.

Alex Mendoza, a senior majoring in biomedical science, said the increases would hit students like him, who live on campus, extra hard. “I don’t think it’s fair to us,” Mendoza said.

Rates for on-campus housing at USF fall below statewide averages. Students at USF paid about $1,760 per semester for an air-conditioned double-occupancy room in the 2006-07 school year. The average for public universities around the state was about $2,180.

Financing for New Residence Facility

The Workgroup also approved the financing for the new $76 million student residence facility, currently called Phase IV.

The facility would include a 1,056-bed residence facility, a 26,000-square-foot Student Services Center and a 19,000-square-foot dining facility.

Construction Plans

During its meeting Jan. 25, the Board of Governors changed the priority of some of the projects on USF’s plan for the construction and financing of needed buildings.

The BOG moved a proposal for a $100 million Honors College from the five-year capital improvement plan to the three-year plan at the urging of President Genshaft.

The BOG also approved several other three-year PECO proposals, including a $34 million Visual and Performing Art Teaching Facility and a $62 million Interdisciplinary Science Teaching and Research Facility.

Some members of the Workgroup expressed concern that needed projects weren’t being given the proper priority.

Tapas Das, a member of the Workgroup and professor, said the engineering department was badly in need of space and could only hire non-research faculty because of limits on lab space.

“It means we’ll just stay wherever we are for however long it takes us to get new facilities,” Das said. “That’s a very serious concern for us.”

Vice Provost Renu Khator also expressed concern that the new commitment to the buildup on the Lakeland campus and existing medical schools were subordinating more important projects.

“Why can’t our priorities remain the way they were,” Khator said. “This is forcing us to replace our priorities. I don’t understand why we have to do that.”

Whatever the Board of Trustees decides in the future about the priority of projects, it needs to define them clearly.

“If we don’t drive the priorities, we deserve whatever the BOG gives us,” said Ralph Wilcox, vice provost of Student Affairs. “If we leave it to the BOG, we have ourselves to blame.”