USF tuition will go up

A committee of the Board of Trustees approved a 5 percent tuition hike Tuesday, but decided to postpone a decision on a second tuition increase that would allow USF to charge undergraduates up to 30 percent more for classes.

The 5 percent tuition increase, signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist on Oct. 26, will raise the cost of classes at USF from $73.71 to $77.39 per credit hour beginning in the spring of 2008.

The second proposed tuition increase, part of a differential tuition bill passed this summer, would apply only to incoming students and would allow USF to raise tuition by 30 percent, though it caps the increase at 15 percent per year.

The BOT committee’s decision Tuesday comes as leaders from USF and other schools have clamored for the ability to raise tuition at Florida universities, among the lowest in the nation.

The board that oversees Florida’s state universities, the Board of Governors, has clashed with state lawmakers over tuition this year, filing suit July 6 to establish their right to raise tuition without legislative approval.

“It can’t be denied our institutions are under stress,” said Board of Governor’s Chancellor Mark Rosenberg, during a September BOG meeting, which was broadcast live on the internet. “We are struggling to maintain our graduation rates.”

The 5 percent increase also comes shortly after state universities were put on notice to expect a 4 percent budget cut in the wake of state tax revenue shortfalls. The cuts would mean the loss of at least $100 million, and universities have been warned to prepare for cuts of up to 10 percent.

Based on an estimated student enrollment of 1 million credit hours next year, the 5 percent tuition increase would generate an additional $3.68 million.

“I was of the opinion that it was needed back before we knew the budget reductions were coming,” Vice Provost Ralph Wilcox said. “It’s quite clear the state university system doesn’t have adequate resources to deliver the world-class quality of education our students deserve.”

Wilcox said that with the assurance of the added revenue, the University can commit to hiring more teachers, allowing for more class offerings and speeding up graduation rates.

USF students now pay $2,210 in tuition for two semesters of 15 credit hours. The increase would raise the cost by about $110, to $2,320.

Routine annual increases in tuition to match inflation would count against the 5 percent increase, and since the rate of inflation runs around 3 percent each year, the net effect on students’ wallets will be even milder than the $110 increase, said Billy Schmidt, who serves as senior policy advisor for Student Government and works with Florida Student Alliance, a student lobbying group.

“What we’ve stressed with the Legislature is this should be a cooperation,” Schmidt said. “If they’re going to hike our tuition, we’d like to see more of a contribution of funds from the state side … that way the fees can go toward improvements instead of just filling in the gaps (from state funding).”

The differential tuition increase, which the BOT committee will reconsider at their January meeting, was part of a larger bill passed by state lawmakers in June. In addition to allowing USF to hike tuition by up to 30 percent, it gave the University of Florida and Florida State University the go ahead for up to a 40 percent tuition increase, capped at 15 percent per year.

David Guidi can be reached at (813) 974-1888 or