BOG files suit, raises tuition

Facing what state university officials are calling an unparalleled budget shortage, the Florida Board of Governors voted Tuesday to freeze freshman enrollment growth and raise tuition for the spring 2008 semester.

Fearing a deficit of up to $250 million, the BOG defied state lawmakers by voting to increase resident student tuition by up to 5 percent in the spring.

“The actions taken (Tuesday) were unprecedented and of great consequence,” said BOG Spokesman Bill Edmonds. “Our primary concern is the students, and the students we enroll are not getting the basic state support they need.”

Though the legislature recently approved a similar tuition hike, Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the measure citing, his commitment to an affordable education. As a result, the BOG joined a lawsuit filed by former Florida Gov. Bob Graham aimed at defining the Board’s role in setting tuition rates.

The suit contends that the power to make major policy decisions for the State University System (SUS), including tuition rates, belongs to the BOG exclusively.

Critical of the Board’s decision to support the lawsuit, State Senate President Ken Pruitt had strong words for the BOG.

“Mark my words; we are going to fight to make sure the American Dream of higher education is affordable for all students,” he said in a written statement Tuesday. “My message to the Board of Governors? We’ll see you in court.”

Tuition revenue pays only about 25 percent of the expenses associated with teaching each student, said Edmonds.

State money is supposed to cover the rest, but with roughly 5,600 unfunded students currently enrolled in state universities, and Crist calling for cuts of 4 to 10 percent from all state agencies, officials say the future is looking grim.

According to Vice Provost Ralph Wilcox, it would take a tuition raise of 25 percent to cover the 4 percent budget reduction that the SUS faces. However, the BOG has committed to not raising tuition over the amount the legislature approved in June.Large budget cuts, coupled with increased strain of growing student bodies, caused the BOG to freeze freshman enrollment growth to the currently funded levels for three years beginning this spring.

This, according to Wilcox, will make it harder for Florida students to attend the university of their choice. Rather, state universities will be forced to be more selective and may have to defer some admission decisions for the Fall 2008 semester until after the legislature sets the state budget in June.

“Rarely do you find the universities, the legislature and students all speaking with one voice,” said Wilcox. “However, (Crist’s veto) will significantly limit access.”

Along with the statewide measures, the BOG approved a number of budget actions to be employed by each university on a local level.

These measures include hiring freezes, possibly shutting down expensive branch campuses and closing service programs.The University of Florida and the University of Central Florida have both announced hiring freezes, while Florida State University announced a preemptive enrollment freeze June 20.

Administrators at USF are meeting with faculty, staff and student leaders to discuss cost cutting programs and are expected to make final decisions soon.”Our primary concern is our ability to balance access with a quality, meaningful education,” he said.