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Tuition, fee trends explored amid budget talks


A proposal to keep differential tuition fees at the same level as the 2012-13 school year has been added to the agenda of next week’s USF Board of Trustees workgroup meeting — a measure that could depart from the university’s lengthy trend of increasing fees in the face of decreasing state funds.

The proposal, which recommends maintaining the differential fee at its existing level of $46.88 per credit hour, to be presented by USF Provost Ralph Wilcox to a USF Board of Trustees workgroup next Thursday, takes into account a 3 percent increase in base tuition.

At the state level, Gov. Rick Scott has vocally opposed tuition increases throughout the legislative season, but the appropriations bill that sits on his desk includes a 3 percent increase in base tuition. It remains unclear whether or not Scott will veto the measure. Late last week, a representative from Scott’s office said the governor remains opposed to any increases in tuition.

USF Media and Public Affairs Coordinator Adam Freeman said the USF differential tuition proposal was non-binding and subject to potential change based on the governor’s actions and that the Provost’s Office did not wish to comment until after the governor signs the bill.

Yet aside from the base tuition, universities may request up to an additional 15 percent in differential fees to be approved by the Florida Board of Governors, based on a bill signed in 2007 by former Gov. Charlie Crist as a response to the decline in state funding for higher education.

As a result of declining state appropriations and increases in tuition, for the first time in the university’s history, revenue from student tuition surpassed state-appropriated funding during the last fiscal year.

In the eight-year span following the 2004-05 academic year, USF incurred a state-funded general revenue loss of approximately 34 percent, according to figures published by the university’s Office of Budget and Policy Analysis. In that same time span, revenue from tuition and fees has increased by more than 128 percent, the vast majority of the burden falling on in-state students.

In-state undergraduate tuition rose by 91 percent over the eight- year time period, with in-state graduate student rates following close behind at 75 percent. Relative to their in-state peers, out-of-state undergraduate students only saw tuition rise by 1 percent over the same time period, while out-of-state graduate student rates dropped 4.5 percent. In the 2012- 13 school year, out-of-state undergraduate students paid more than 2.5 times the rate of resident undergraduate students, and out- of-state graduate students paid close to 2 times that of resident graduates.

The 3 percent base tuition increase proposed by the Florida Legislature in the 2014 fiscal year budget is a political obstacle for Scott’s administration but, as trends have shown, would have negligible impact if universities chose to increase school-specific fees, including Activity and Service (A&S), health, athletics, technology, green energy funds and differential fees.

Over the same eight-year time span, the sum of all fees paid by undergraduate in-state students increased by 188 percent. A student taking 30 credits per year paid $107.83 in fees per credit hour — or $3,234.90 per year — during the 2012-13 fiscal year, according to USF fees listed on the State University System website, while during the 2004-05 year a student taking the same number of credits paid $37.40 — or $1,122 per year.

And while the new Florida budget is also expected to restore $300 million of previously cut university system funds and increase Bright Futures coverage by an extra $3 per credit hour, the change would be accompanied by more rigorous GPA and standardized test score requirements for high school students, ultimately reducing the number of recipients.