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Need-based financial aid should be more of a state burden

With the $300 million budget cut from the state university system, Gov. Rick Scott has effectively ensured that USF will be responsible for much of its expenditures, including need-based financial aid.

Provost Ralph Wilcox told the Board of Trustees (BOT) at the meeting that there appears to be no interest in meaningful investment in higher education in the state of Florida.

If this trend of decreased funding continues, students could eventually be paying more for their state educations than the state itself.

This year, the BOT suggested using 40 percent of the money from the tuition differential for need-based financial aid 10 percent more than what is required by state law. The 40 percent proposal translates into roughly $4 million.

Without the change, the university could have been able to propose a smaller tuition differential increase.

Students should not have to experience a hike in their tuitions in order to pay for the majority of other students college experiences, especially after the BOTs proposed 11 percent tuition differential increase.

Wilcox said to WUSF News that the financial aid change softens the blow a little bit. While this may appear to be the case, increasing tuition to pay for financial aid that is used to pay that same tuition seems counter-intuitive at best.

And while tuition and fees must be paid in the wake of the cut, using tuition differentials to fund a state obligation is not the proper course of action.

According to a presentation to the BOT, the remaining 60 percent of the money collected from tuition differential will be used to expand the STEM field programs, improve distance learning programs, and provide additional financial counseling for students, among other uses.

As Bright Futures Scholarships and other state-funded aid are decreasing, students cannot afford to pay an increased amount.

The change is especially apparent when considering that in 1990, general tax revenues paid 71 percent of per-student costs and tuition covered the remainder. In 2010, that number had decreased to 49 percent and the cost covered by tuition had risen to 40 percent.

The University of Florida has expressed a desire to forego the state mandate that requires 30 percent of differential tuition to be used for need-based financial aid. The university only requested a 9 percent tuition differential increase.

UF may be on to something.

Need-based financial aid is necessary for many students. But it is time for the state to step up and not place the burden on the backs of the future of the country.