Budget cuts limit first-time freshmen

Being a college student just got a little harder — at least for USF’s freshman class.

Statewide budget cuts, which recently trimmed the University’s funding by $50.4 million, have caused USF to limit its first-time student enrollment and raise tuition, making the University experience both more selective and more expensive for freshmen.

Rising cost of an education
USF responded to the loss in funds by increasing tuition across the board and implementing a fee on top of the cost of tuition. The fee, known as differential tuition, is not covered by Bright Futures scholarships.

This makes the cost of a college education roughly 15 percent higher for incoming freshmen and transfer students, but that doesn’t mean those students are forced to pay for the increase entirely out of their pockets for the increase.

The Office of Financial Aid has devoted more of its funding toward providing additional need-based scholarships.

“We didn’t change the pool of resources — we didn’t add to the pot of scholarships,” said Leellen Brigman, associate vice president of enrollment and planning. “We had to increase funding for need-based scholarships because of the increase in tuition in January and in the fall.”

The average tuition cost for full-time, in-state students rose from $3,340 annually to $3,990 annually, said Billie Jo Hamilton, director of the Office of Financial Aid. For out-of-state students, it rose from $16,040 to $16,710.

The Office of Financial Aid receives more than half of the money it awards students from federal state funding, which accounts for about $162 million of the $285 million received, Brigman said.

Most students receive some form of aid
Last year, the University awarded about $267 million in financial aid. The other resources are state funds, institutional scholarships, student loans and funding for work-study programs. Though data are not available on how many students will receive financial aid this year, the University awarded about 48,000 students some form of financial aid last year, Hamilton said.

Most scholarship money does not come from state funds, and some scholarships have increased to supplement higher tuition. For example, scholarships from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, a private not-for-profit organization, increased from $10,000 to $12,000 because of tuition increases, said Lisa Rycroft, assistant director of scholarships and high ability. This year, 35 students received this award compared to last year’s 29. It is projected that 40 students will receive this award next year, Brigman said.

“Our goal is to increase the national awards each year,” she said.

USF also slightly increased funding for some need-based scholarships because of raised tuition, she said. Since the University does not have a centralized system for data on all scholarships, grants and financial aid awarded, these data were not available.

Tightening the enrollment cap
Though the University is making changes to supplement tuition increases, it is also restricting the number of students it admits.

“The freshman admission standards did not change from last year, but the Board of Governors told us to cap the freshmen first-time-in-college students,” Brigman said.

This is so the state’s 11 public universities do not admit more students than they have resources available to adequately provide for, she said.

The cap caused the University to be more selective: The average incoming freshman’s GPA for the Tampa campus is 3.72 with an average SAT score of 1148 — compared to last year’s averages of 3.61 and 1133, respectively.

This means the SAT scores increased by 1.3 percent and the average GPA climbed by 2.8 percent.

Despite the restrictions, the University as a whole experienced a slight increase in incoming freshmen — from 3,772 last year to 3,909 for the fall semester, according to the USF Web site.

Honors College faces similar increases
The criteria for acceptance in the Honors College increased as well — to a 3.8 GPA and a 1300 SAT score from 3.7 and 1270.

“We had roughly the same number of students this year as we had last year, even with the higher standards. More and more better students are seeing USF as one of their choices,” said Honors College Dean Stuart Silverman.

Honors students make up about 15 percent of the freshman class, and within the Honors College, these students make up 472 of the approximately 1,800 students. About 85 percent of honors students receive a Bright Futures scholarship, and the other 15 percent are mostly out-of-state students who don’t qualify for Bright Futures or students who have lost their scholarships, Silverman said.

Though the admissions criteria for the Honors College are higher, the admission process is on a case-by-case basis, Silverman said. Sometimes exceptions are made. For example, 25 students this year did not meet the required academic standards, but were admitted based on their achievements in other fields such as volunteering or skills.

Admissions standards in the college are not expected to change unless the financial resources slow down, Silverman said. The Honors College receives its scholarship money from private donations and the University’s scholarship allocation.

The Honors College offers a variety of scholarships with varying requirements. More information on these can be found on its Web site, honors.usf.edu.