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EDITORIAL: Tuition policy just another step up the AAU ladder

The USF Board of Trustees (BOT) granted preliminary approval Thursday to a policy that would decrease tuition for out-of-state graduate students by 10 percent, while tuition for out-of-state undergraduates would remain the same, Tampa Tribune writer Adam Emerson reported.

Associate provost Tapas Das said that by reducing nonresident graduate tuition, USF will be more competitive in comparison to research universities in other states and hopefully draw more out-of-state students.

It seems odd that the BOT is so concerned with the cost of nonresident graduate tuition as first-year Florida resident students are coping with hikes in tuition and ever-increasing admissions standards.

One must ask, then, “What is this policy all about?” It certainly isn’t financially driven, as the financially conscious option would be for the University to reduce the cost of tuition for nonresident undergrads, who outnumber nonresident grads. According to the USF database, InfoMart, of the 2,161 out-of-state students enrolled at USF by the drop/add period of the spring 2008 semester, only 876 – 40.5 percent – were graduate students.

Graduate students also have an entirely different set of financial concerns than undergraduates. Many act as teaching assistants, receiving work stipends and tuition reimbursements, thus reducing the profit universities make off of tuition by admitting them. Accordingly, if the University wanted to reap the largest profit – and perhaps offset some of its widespread budget crunching – it would lower out-of-state undergraduate tuition.

The proposed policy seems to be yet another in a set of reputation-building decisions aimed at fulfilling USF’s dream of becoming an elite Association of American Universities (AAU) research institution, as laid out in the five-year plan. The more out-of-state students the University admits, the more impressive its programs appear in the eyes of other institutions and students. Additionally, increasing the number of graduate students at USF would significantly boost the possibility of receiving more grants for research as well as the University’s national prominence, raising USF’s chances of being regarded as a top-tier research institution.

While it is all well and good for USF to want to be an elite and nationally recognized school, it is important to consider such a goal in context. USF has already had to make strategic program and department cuts, reduce library hours and freeze hiring in response to the state’s dismal financial situation. President Judy Genshaft revealed May 22 that more cuts would come in the form of faculty layoffs, delayed student advising and trimmed course offerings. It is not even feasible that in the midst of all these changes USF can ascend to AAU status within the next five years, so it should not be in the forefront of every decision-making process.

Instead of trying to emulate other AAU universities and build its national prestige, the University should concern itself with providing the necessary academic resources for its students to receive a quality education – the majority of which are Florida residents. It seems that achieving AAU status has become more of a distraction for USF than a long-term goal, robbing it of the ability to adequately provide for its students.