USF fall tuition to increase

Though tuition could increase by as much as 15 percent, USF Associate Vice President of Government Relations Mark Walsh said state-sponsored scholarships, such as the Bright Futures program, and higher education funding from the state will decrease.

The Florida budget, signed by the House of Representatives and Senate earlier this month, will increase universities’ base tuition by 8 percent, as well as allow all universities the option of adding an additional 7 percent increase.

It’s a pattern that USF Senior Vice Provost Dwayne Smith said is cropping up across the U.S. In an effort to save money, states are beginning to make significant cuts to their higher education budgets while raising tuition so students incur some of the extra costs.

“One of the only other options to bring in more revenue for states is to increase taxes,” Smith said. “Yet the latter part of this decade has been one that is very much of an anti-tax fervor … and has come about in a political climate where people are really starting to put on the breaks about taxation.”

Walsh said it is up to USF’s Board of Trustees to determine whether USF will increase tuition by the full 15 percent, but the “tuition increases offset a lot” of the University’s lost revenue. Because stimulus funds, which USF used in its base operations budget, are no longer available, the 2011-12 budget, which was signed May 6, reduced the State University System operating budget by 4 percent – from $3.62 billion to $3.48 billion – and USF’s funding by $9 million.

He also said the two chambers have agreed to cut awards for the Bright Futures program from $437 million this year to $350 million next year. As a result, Walsh said the eligibility standards will be heightened for the 2013 high school graduating class, and he anticipates the per-credit-hour award will be lowered “based on whatever they can afford for $350 million.”

“What (USF) asked legislators for (in terms of funding) was essentially the number that is necessary to run the university system,” Walsh said, “and whether that comes from state funds or tuition is not as important to us as having the amount of revenue. When the state’s not able to pay for that, that tuition becomes all the more important.”

USF’s tuition has steadily increased over the past three years, USF Provost Ralph Wilcox said, yet the actual costs of an education hasn’t changed much.

“The cost of a … full-time equivalent undergraduate student is about $10,500,” he said. “Today it’s the same as a decade ago, which is pretty amazing when you think about the impact inflation has had on faculty salaries.”

According to USF’s University Scholarships and Financial Aid website, the estimated cost of attendance for an undergraduate student living off campus for the 2010-11 academic year is $15,300 for a Florida resident and $26,110 for an out-of-state student.

Walsh said the legislature’s budget cuts are “in the neighborhood” of what USF anticipated, yet future budgets should bring in more revenue for the university.

“I do think that this will probably be the … lowest of the budgets from the state perspective, because we’re hoping the economy will recover,” Walsh said. “The state’s economists are projecting a recovery, so we’ll have more state funds to deal with. What happened this year was a perfect storm of issues where the economy hasn’t quite picked up fast enough … and there were some other issues with state things like Medicaid that are increasing their costs.”

Until then, Wilcox said administrators will have to “be much more responsive in the ways that private universities are,” because students are “demanding much more” from their educational experience since they are paying more.