Gov. Crist to review tuition increase bill

Undergraduates planning to enroll at one of Florida’s three largest universities could face a significant increase in tuition this fall.

After easily passing through the state House and Senate earlier this month, a potential education bill that could cost students at USF, the University of Florida and Florida State University up to 40 percent more in tuition has only one more obstacle: Gov. Charlie Crist. The bill would only affect those enrolling this fall, however, not students currently enrolled.

A representative for Crist said the governor has yet to receive the bill and will review it as soon as it reaches his desk. He said the governor has not determined whether he will veto it.

Since he took office, Crist has repeatedly stated he will not raise the cost of tuition for Florida college students. However, according to a May 3 report by the St. Petersburg Times, Crist said there is a “strong maybe” he will veto the bill.

Currently, students in the state of Florida, regardless of what public university they attend, pay $73.31 per credit hour. This averages out to $3,383 for a 30-hour year of semester work per student. This amount ranks Florida at the very bottom for cost of in-state undergraduate tuition.

Vice Provost Ralph Wilcox said the increase would be less than $70 a semester. He emphasized that there is no crystal ball to predict how Crist will vote, but the recent approval by the legislature is a step in the right direction for Florida undergraduates.

“The fact that they approved the bill demonstrates the need Florida’s universities have for more adequate support for quality, world-class and comprehensive education,” Wilcox said. “All new revenues will enhance our undergraduates.”

According to Wilcox, the University has received a series of communications and requests from Tallahassee asking for reaffirmation on the language of the bill, but said there is no timetable establishing when Crist might receive it.

Based on the referendum, USF would gain $1 million the first year and a total of $20 million by 2010. If passed, the tuition differential could increase by no more than 15 percent of the previous year.

Students who have contracts with Florida Prepaid Scholarship Program would be exempt, but the Bright Futures scholarship program would not cover the extra cost.

The revenue could be used to hire new faculty and academic advisors, provide students with a timely delivery of their sequence and assist in reducing class size, according to Wilcox.

Even though the Board of Governors votes each year on a tentative tuition increase for public universities, this bill is significantly larger than a typical referendum, which only increases costs by a few percentage points.

According to University administrators, Florida is soon to be the third-largest state in the nation, yet has only one Top-50 Association of American Universities-rated college with UF. Other states – such as California and New York – have 9 and 7 ranked colleges, respectively.

Discussions of a tuition differential started last year when UF President Bernie Machen proposed a $500 per semester fee to improve that university’s status. Since then, the proposal has progressed into a statewide bill under which universities such as UF could gain an additional $1.3 million during the first year of tuition differential.

“We’re not asking to double tuition,” Wilcox said. “Even if we were asking, we’d still be a little above the average of the United States. It’s going to take increased investments to secure a great undergraduate institution.”