USF tuition to increase by 1.7 percent after BOT vote

The USF Board of Trustees voted Tuesday to adapt USF policies to match state statutes on tuition that would result in a 1.7 percent tuition increase for in-state undergraduate students next year, equal to the rate of inflation specified by the Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

In 2007, former Fla. Gov. Charlie Crist signed into law a statute that states tuition for resident undergraduate students “shall increase at the beginning of each fall semester at a rate equal to inflation, unless otherwise provided in the General Appropriations Act.”

But since 2007, Florida governors have voted to increase base tuition each year. This year, Gov. Rick Scott, who has been a staunch opponent of tuition increases since the start of the legislative season, vetoed the 3 percent tuition increase written into the state budget by the legislature. Scott also asked all 12 public universities to reject adopting the 1.7 percent increase, but last week, the University of Florida and Florida State University voted to change their policies to reflect the statute.

USF General Counsel Steve Prevaux said the statute applies uniformly across the State University System, and the language of the provision that states that tuition “shall” increase does not give the university authority to act

“There is no authority for the Board or the president to accept a different base tuition than the law provides,” he said. “… There could be potential consequences to

Prevaux said the University of North Florida, the University of West Florida and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University have also adopted measures to match the statute and said he is unaware of any university that has discussed the issue and voted against it.

Two USF trustees voted against the measure because of the accompanying tuition increase.

Trustee Byron Shinn said he didn’t support raising tuition at this time. Trustee Debbie Sembler said she, too, did not feel a tuition increase was warranted.

“My integrity would just say to vote against it,” she said.

Some students, such as Jennifer Valentin, a junior
majoring in English literature, said they felt the resulting tuition increase was inconsistent with the university’s stance on not requesting an increase on tuition differentials, for which each university has the authority to request up to
15 percent.

“Why would (Judy Genshaft) say they weren’t going to raise fees if she couldn’t deliver,” Valentin said. “I mean, say you are going to fight hard or something like that — but don’t promise something and then not deliver because then it’s like, ‘How can we trust you?’”

Perry Mitchell, a PhD candidate in chemistry, said he thought the increase could help USF become more competitive.

“Even after the rate increase, though, we’re still probably going to be the cheapest tuition in the state,” he said.

But trustee Stan Levy said the measure will allow USF to make up some of the revenue it lost from Scott’s 3 percent veto. Since Scott signed a bill in April to grant preeminence to the University of Florida and Florida State University, making them eligible for additional funding to become nationally competitive, Levy said this makes up for the governor not increasing tuition.

“In order for us to stay competitive, hire the best and the brightest professors to take care of our students and to grow our university, I think it’s important that we get our tuition up to national standards,” Levy said.

Trustee Nancy Watkins said though she doesn’t support tuition increases, she doesn’t think the university could legally ignore the statute.

“While the effect of this is a tuition increase, I’m not viewing this as a tuition increase,” she said. “I do not intend to vote to raise tuition, but I intend to vote to bring us in compliance with Florida statutes according to our legal advice.”

— Additional reporting by Roberto Roldan