11 percent: Tuition differential recommendation garners mixed reactions, questions

The Florida Board of Governors (BOG) is preparing to consider the highly contentious recommendation by the USF Board of Trustees (BOT) last week to raise tuition differentials by 11 percent, four percent less than the full amount the university is allowed to request.

The move, which will have students paying an additional $17 per credit hour in fall, or about $6,335 for a 30-credit year, has been heralded as symbolic by some in the message it sends to the Florida Legislature.

The Legislature doled out $50 million in cuts to the USF System, of which $39.1 million are to the Tampa campus alone.

The university had initially been poised to raise differential tuition by 15 percent, which would generate an additional $17 million. The new proposition would raise an additional $10.3 million.

There is no doubt that we can put to good use every dollar that we get, BOT Chairman John Ramil said. Our whole pattern of performance has been that we always raise tuition to the maximum that is allowed. Higher education in this state is woefully underfunded by the needs of this university and by any benchmark out there, and we are giving our state government cover for this by continuing to raise tuition.

By law, all universities are required to use 30 percent of money collected from the tuition differential for need-based financial aid. This year, USF proposed to use 40 percent of the money from the tuition differential, or about $4 million, toward need based scholarships.

But some, like Elizabeth Bird, the sole member of the BOT who voted against the recommendation to increase tuition by 11 percent, believe USFs decision to not request the full amount of money in light of the level of budget cuts is like shooting ourselves in the foot.

Its not a huge amount of money, but it would have at least helped us be able to keep and retain some faculty in (STEM) areas where theyre most easily lured out by other universities, she said in an interview with The Oracle. That money could have helped with that. Its not that its a huge impact right now, and thats what it is. Its a gradual attrition. Theres been all kinds of tightening and to add that as well. The Legislature built the budget around the assumption that wed get a 15 percent increase.

Bird said the trustees were informed of the change from a 15 percent request to an 11 percent request the day before the meeting.

At what point does suddenly the aptly-developed plan become a (less-developed) plan for 11 percent, and why? she asked.

Trustee Brian Lamb said that the change was not sudden, and that possible ideas for the request had been fluid, moving between 0 to 15 percent over the last month.

The move to request for less than the full 15 percent authorized by the state came after the University of Florida requested a nine percent increase last week in what State University System Chancellor called the shot heard around the world. All other state universities have requested for the full 15 percent differential increase.

For those universities coming in with the 15 percent, that has been done in the past with blanket approval (from the BOG) for differential tuition, USF President Judy Genshaft said. This year, it has been told to us that it is going to be different and that there is not going to be blanket approval across the board and that its going to be very unique to each university.

Lamb said the partial increase would help USF in the long term.

This has always been a tough conversation, but its helping, he said. Today is just the beginning of the tough conversation. We cannot let the backs of our faculty and the backs of our students continue to make tuition decisions. Even though were underfunded, were well positioned. We can help change the trajectory of state funding.

But USF Provost Ralph Wilcox said that even with the increase, more belt-tightening at USF will continue and nothing is guaranteed.

I would characterize this as bare bones, he said. If the BOG were to not support our request for an increase of 11 percent, its going to clearly set us off our strategic path and make us step back and make us reassess our ability to serve the same number of students this fall.

The BOT also approved a $2 per credit hour increase in the Capital Improvement Trust Fund (CITF) fee that will generate approximately $22 million for the Tampa campus, $2.1 million for the St. Petersburg campus and $800,000 for the Sarasota-Manatee campus. The fee will go into effect in August if approved by the BOG.

The BOG will meet in Orlando from Tuesday to Thursday.