The many on-campusprotesters who havedecried tuition hikes during the past year have found a new supporter: Gov. Rick Scott.
The House ofRepresentatives proposed a budget last week that would increase university tuition by a base rate of 8 percent, as well as cut 6 percent of funding to higher education, and State University System President Frank Brogan said he expectedan additional 7 percent increase in differential costs.
But Scott told reporters Tuesday that he will see none of it.
“I don’t believe in tuition hikes,” he said. “We have to do what the private sector has done and what every family has done and that’s tighten our belts … I want the cost of living in this state to be lower than other states. I don’t want it to be higher than other states.”
Despite the governor’swishes, the House defended its decision to raise tuition, as Florida currently offers the fifth-lowest tuition rates in the nation, according to a College Board ranking.
State Rep. Denise Grimsley said to the Miami Herald that allowing tuition rates to increase will keep Florida’s tuition “nationallycompetitive.” But Lane Wright, Scott’s press secretary, said in an email to The Oracle that Scott thinks keeping tuition low will make the state just as competitive.
“We need to make sure we have a well-educatedworkforce and a low cost ofliving in this state,” he said. “An increase in tuition comes out of (students’) pockets.That means (students) will have less money for rent,groceries, transportation, etc.”
Wright said Scott thinks the state will find ways to scrub budgets to ensure that tuition won’t go up any further.
“So many families andbusinesses have beentightening their beltsduring this recession, andgovernment entities should do the same thing,” he said. “Our governmental institutions, like universities, should beasking, ‘Can we do things lessexpensively? Are there areas where we can reduce costs and still fulfill our core mission?’ Gov. Scott is confident they can find a way to do that and avoid tuition hikes that will put a greater financial strain on students and their families.”
Scott requested volumesof data on financialexpenditures and Universitypriorities from each of the11 state universities last November.
USF submitted more than 100 pages of data anddocumentation in response to his request, and in a December interview with The Oracle, USF Provost Ralph Wilcox said the University was”absolutely delighted”to receive theadditional attention from Scott.
“The more focus, the greater the investment,” he said.
A few weeks later, when Scott made his annual State of the State address, heemphasized the importance of funneling money to higher education. Last fiscal year, USF lost more than $40 million in state funding.
Though Wilcox wasunavailable to comment on this story, his spokesman, Kevin Burke, said Scott’s statementrequires “appropriatedeliberation” from University officials.
Yet, USF students like Corey Uhl, a member of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) who helped organize
several rallies and marches oncampus to stop tuitionincreases, still have a hard time taking the governor’s words at face value.
“Rick Scott saying that is actually kind of surprising, but I don’t think he’s going tofollow through,” he said.
If he does, Uhl, whowithdrew from the University for the semester because of rising costs, said it may be easier for students like him to remain in school.
“The student population is becoming less and less diverse with tuition increasing,”he said. “Eventually, only a very elite group of students will be able to afford highereducation.”