Some students’ wallets will get a few hundred dollars thinner this fall, as the Board of Trustees (BOT) approved a tuition increase for the University on Thursday.
With an increase to the overall cost of tuition of up to 15 percent, new students could pay an additional $11.06 per credit hour, adding up to $330.80 annually for students taking 15 credit hours in the fall and spring. Students will have to pay for the increase themselves, since Bright Futures scholarships will not cover this additional cost.
However, this increase, known as differential tuition, only applies to first time in college and transfer students who enrolled at USF after July 1, 2007, Provost Ralph Wilcox said.
“This immediately impacts two classes of students: those who enrolled in fall 2007, and those who will be here in fall 2008,” he said.
The Florida Legislature agreed in June to allow USF to charge undergraduate students up to 30 percent of the current base tuition rate as differential tuition, provided that the overall tuition rate doesn’t increase by more than 15 percent annually. Similarly, the University of Florida (UF) and Florida State University (FSU) can assess up to 40 percent of their tuition rates. Due to their designation as research institutions by the Carnegie Foundation, these three universities are the only ones out of the 11 in the State University System that are allowed to charge differential tuition.
Once the cost of tuition at USF is 30 percent higher than that of the Florida universities without differential tuition, the state will freeze the University’s tuition rate, Wilcox said.
The same policy applies to FSU and UF once they reach 40 percent.
Battling bloated student-to-faculty ratios President Judy Genshaft said that the concept of differential tuition originated at UF, when the university decided it needed to come up with money to hire additional faculty. UF has the highest student-to-faculty ratio of any university in the American Association of Universities (AAU), she said.
Florida has the highest student-to-faculty ratio in the country, with 31 students for every faculty member, according to a 2005 report by the U.S. Department of Education. USF falls just under the average, with 23.6 students per faculty member, according to data provided by United Faculty of Florida Vice President Sherman Dorn.
Since USF’s strategic plan involves becoming a member of the AAU, approving differential tuition falls in line with the University’s goals. Wilcox said all of the revenue generated by differential tuition will go toward lowering the student-to-faculty ratio, though it may take a while to significantly reduce that number.
“I am confident that we are going to be able to generate $1 million through differential tuition, which would provide about 10 faculty members and a handful of advisers,” he said.
The amount of revenue the University receives from differential tuition is largely dependent on how much the Legislature increases base tuition rates across the state. Since tuition cannot increase more than 15 percent in any given school year, differential tuition and any increase the state approves must total no more than 15 percent of current tuition.
“For example, if the Board of Governors’ recommended 8 percent tuition increase is approved by the state Legislature, differential tuition could only be as high as 7 percent,” Wilcox said. “However, if the Legislature decides not to have any sort of increase this year, then differential tuition could be as high as 15 percent, which would put us in a difficult situation, (since that would bring the University much closer to reaching its 30 percent cap).”
Not a solution, but an aid to Tampa Differential tuition is a way to provide additional funding for a university without further straining the state’s Bright Futures and Florida Prepaid programs. Though it does provide some relief for the state’s budget cuts, differential tuition will not provide enough to make up for the University’s losses.
“We’ve already had to give back $19 million, and we expect to give up another $33 million by July 1, for a total budget cut of $52 million,” Wilcox said. “We don’t know exactly how much revenue will be coming in, but we do know that it’s not going to be enough to backfill the immense losses that we’ve given up at this moment in time.”
The BOT also decided that only new students attending the Tampa campus will incur this expense, despite lobbying by trustee Jan Smith for USF Sarasota-Manatee to offer differential tuition rates as well.
“If we can opt in, this could mean as much as a half a million dollars to that campus in three years based on the statistics and information I’ve been given, so I’ve got to be an advocate for what folks down my way in the community and on the campus want,” he said.
The decision to only charge differential tuition at USF’s main campus caused some discord as to whether the regional campuses were considered in the same regard as the Tampa campus.
“When a Sarasota-Manatee student comes up to me after a board meeting and asks if we’re part of a Research I university, what do I say?” Smith said.
Trustee Kiran Patel told Smith to say yes, even though the Sarasota-Manatee campus isn’t considered a research institution. Trying to make all of USF’s campuses into research institutions would force the University to stretch its resources to create “four mediocre institutions rather than one good one.”
“All of our goals are the same but we don’t have to the resources to fund all of them at the same level,” he said.