USF officials discuss plans after budget bill signing

As USF prepares for a $28.6 million state budget cut for the upcoming fiscal year, University officials say they are concerned about tuition changes and what they might do to the school’s recruiting.

Gov. Charlie Crist signed the Higher Education Appropriations Conforming Bill (Senate Bill 1696) on Tuesday, finalizing USF’s 2009-10 budget and implementing numerous changes in the University’s funding.

USF faculty discussed the bill at the faculty and senate meeting Wednesday where they also discussed plans of how to inform students of the changes.

University officials said they are most concerned with the bill’s restriction on out-of-state students’ ability to claim residency and receive in-state tuition.

USF’s policy allows for out-of-state students to receive in-state tuition as long as they have one-year of legal residence.

Beginning in August, however, out-of-state students will no longer be able to claim in-state tuition during their enrollment, no matter how long they’ve lived in Florida.

In order to receive in-state tuition, the bill requires out-of-state students to sit out of school for one year and claim residency. They will then be able to enroll the following year and qualify for in-state tuition.

“The great regret here is they didn’t start this with an incoming class or with the students that came here a year ago with the fullest intent they were going to claim residency,” said USF Provost Ralph Wilcox.

The issue is that the former policy was not “grandfathered in,” he said, so out-of-state students who applied last year and expect in-state tuition in August will not qualify.

USF Associate Provost Tapas Das said USF must inform each student who expects to receive in-state tuition in a few months.

“It’s a challenge,” he said, shaking his head.

The bill does grant state universities and community colleges the option to revise this policy and reclassify students’ residency status. If a university chooses to amend the policy, the bill “requires each institution to establish a residency appeal committee.”

Das said he will head a residency appeal committee to review the situation of students who enrolled at USF last year with the assumption they would receive in-state tuition after one year.

He said the provost office scheduled a meeting for June 15 to discuss a “communication plan” on how to inform those students they will not be receiving in-state tuition in August.

Wilcox said USF may implement a waiver system for students who enrolled at USF based on the assumption they were eligible for in-state tuition after one year.

“The likelihood is that we will request for students to demonstrate the intent that when they came here a year ago they (thought they) were going to receive in-state tuition,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox said USF will also implement a process for notifying students of a new “excess hours surcharge” for students who exceed 120 percent of the number of credit hours required to complete their degree.

This policy applies to students enrolling for the first time in the 2009-10 academic year or later. Such students who exceed the necessary hours to complete their degree must pay a surcharge of 50 percent of the tuition rate for each additional credit hour.

The bill specifically states that universities must inform students upon enrollment and notify students when the credit hours are exceeded.

Prior to the governor’s approval, the USF Board of Trustees (BoT) had to approve the University’s seven recommendations for tuition increases. BoT passed the recommendations May 20.

The bill increased undergraduate tuition by 8 percent and gave universities the option to add a 7 percent differential fee. USF chose to add the differential fee, increasing undergraduate tuition a total of 15 percent.

Das said USF chose to make the raise because Florida has the second-lowest undergraduate tuition in the nation.

The bill also raised the cap on graduate tuition and out-of-state fees, allowing universities to increase tuition by 15 percent per year from the original 10 percent limit.

However, USF chose to remain at the 10 percent increase and reduce the out-of-state fee by 15 percent except for graduate students in the College of Medicine (MD) and Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) programs.

Das said the reason for reducing the graduate out-of-state fee was that Florida’s graduate tuition ranks 30th in the country. He said that after the reduction USF’s out-of-state fees would be the second lowest in the state.

“We’re trying to be competitive with in-state fees in the northeastern states where most of our graduate and out-of-state students come from,” Das said.

He said lowering those fees will help recruitment.

“We are spending more money on advertisements and sending more people to those northeastern states,” Das said.

Graduate students in the MD will see a 15 percent tuition increase. Those in the DPT programs will see a 5.6 percent increase.

The bill allows an alternative for out-of-state graduate students to receive a zero out-of-state fee. Most graduate assistants and associates, as well as graduate students receiving a full fellowship will qualify for this policy.

The policy also applies to international students. Wilcox said this has been an “USF initiative” for years.

“So this is a huge gain for us,” he said. “Now the downside is … it just happened in the same year that the state has really tightened up on residency status.”