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Trustees talk tuition, admissions standards

Faced with budget cuts that may total $52 million in the next two years, Board of Trustees (BOT) workgroups agreed to a 15 percent tuition increase and tighter admissions standards Thursday. The Finance and Audit Workgroup also agreed to keep the University’s tuition in line with any increases mandated by the Board of Governors (BOG), which manages USF and other State University System (SUS) schools.

The increase, which needs to be approved by the whole BOT before going into effect in fall 2008 – would only affect students who enrolled at the Tampa campus in fall 2007, and would not apply to students who participate in the Florida pre-paid college program.

The University, which is using funds generated by a differential tuition to boost revenue, may not see a quick benefit from the increase, Wilcox said.

During the Academic and Campus Environment Workgroup meeting, the Office of the Provost presented an enrollment plan based on the state’s worsening economic situation.

“We are dealing with a 7.5 percent budget cut and we are predicting even deeper cuts in the future,” Wilcox said.

In response, the University is accepting fewer students and plans on reducing enrollment of full-time equivalent students – the technical term for a student taking 40 credit hours in an academic year – by 5.94 percent over the next three years, mostly on the Tampa campus. This roughly equates to between 2,500 and 3,000 students.

The reduction will be enacted over a three-year period, and is a practical solution to aligning expenses with the current level of funding, Wilcox said.

Although the plan presented was only tentative, the BOT must propose a revised enrollment plan to the BOG by Feb. 29.

Maintaining academic quality amid budget cuts was also discussed. While considering how to align the University’s expenses with the amount of money currently available, Wilcox stressed the administration’s duty to present and newly accepted students.

“We are responsible to those currently enrolled students and faculty, and we are focused on making sure that seats are always available,” he said.

With threats of a recession looming, more budget cuts are not beyond the realm of possibility, Wilcox said. He said long-term enrollment reduction would give the administration more time and flexibility to deal with unforeseen changes.

“Without a doubt we are going to see a shift in enrollment in the coming years and if the climate continues to worsen we’ll see it drop even further,” he said.

Wilcox was hopeful that the budgetary hardship USF faces will ultimately improve the University. He focused on raising the bar for incoming transfer students, from which most of the enrollment reductions will come.

“Top priority will be given to students with above a 3.0 GPA and having at least completed their (associate’s degree),” he said.

While budget cuts have been the catalyst for a tuition increase and a freeze on new hires, Wilcox was hopeful that Gov. Charlie Crist’s proposed budget will be passed when the Legislature reconvenes in March, as the 2008 budget includes a $50 million education growth fund that will alleviate the recent squeeze on funds, Wilcox said.

Under Crist’s plan, the University’s budget is reduced by 5.94 percent instead of 7.5 percent, he said.

Reactions to audit and parking changesA state audit of the University identified 13 areas where the University mismanaged money or property, but was not cause for alarm, said John Ramil, trustee, as there was no fraud or theft. When it came to reimbursing faculty and staff for travel, the University thought it should reimburse them at the federal rate as many receive federal research grants, said Carl Carlucci, the chief financial officer and executive vice president of the University.

“I think we’re certainly moving in the right direction,” Wilcox said in response to the audit. The University has already corrected some of the areas and will fix the rest promptly, Carlucci said.

As demand for parking is expected to increase, the BOT’s Finance and Audit Workgroup also approved a 3 percent increase in parking rates on the Tampa and St. Petersburg campuses. In addition, the workgroup approved a 7 percent increase in on-campus housing rates.