Governor Rick Scott unveiled a new idea for higher education, but during Wednesday’s Faculty Senate Executive Committee meeting, Provost Wilcox shared his views on the proposed changes.
“There are some things in here that we like, some things in here that we don’t like and some things in here that we don’t quite understand,” Wilcox said.
Some of Scott’s “Finish in Four, Save More” plan includes keeping tuition and fee rates from rising, expanding Bright Futures and cutting taxes on college textbooks. The idea is that these measures would encourage students to graduate sooner and with less debt.
The provost voiced concerns about the “freeze” of tuition and fee rates when it comes to the university’s ability to continue to grow.
“Different universities are at different stages of evolution,” Wilcox said. “Older universities have built infrastructure over 150 years or more, newer universities are still in the process of building. Students recognize that. Students are willing to pay, have been willing to pay, higher fees. It’s not a surprise that local fees paid by at the University of South Florida are higher than those paid in Gainesville.”
Some of the fees that would be affected by this legislation, according to the provost, include the Activity and Services fee, athletic fee, health fees, lab fees and facility and equipment fees.
“The governor, to his credit, we know where his mind is. He wants to keep the sticker price for students attending university as low (as possible) and put all protections in place that he can,” Wilcox said. “I don’t take issue with him on that, but there has to be a counter-balance of state appropriations and that’s where performance-based funding, pre-eminence, comes in.”
Both performance-based funding and pre-eminence prove state funding to schools based on a set of criteria that the schools need to meet. Currently, USF meets the requirements for emerging pre-eminence.
The provost wasn’t completely critical of the governor’s plan. For instance, he praised the idea of expanding Bright Futures scholarships. These expansions would include allowing the scholarship to cover summer semester.
He also voiced approval for the idea of cutting sales tax on textbooks. According to Scott, cutting textbook sales tax would save a student taking five courses per semester an estimated $60 a year.
The last part of the governor’s plan that Wilcox touched on is the idea of decreasing the fees paid by graduate teaching assistants by 25 percent. This is something that the Graduate Assistants Union has been bargaining with the university over for longer than a year.
“We have said ‘no.’ There are direct costs associated with those fees,” Wilcox said. “Now, all of a sudden if we eliminate 25 percent of the revenue of fees being paid by graduate assistants, we’re going to have to offset that loss of revenue in some way.”
Wilcox’s main reason for arguing against this change is that the graduate assistants still use facilities such as Student Health Services that the fees pay for.
Scott’s plan isn’t officially enacted and needs to go through the Florida Legislature before the changes could start taking affect.
“We’ll see how other universities respond to this, but its not like the Florida Legislature is going to step up and say, ‘Well, if we’re going to reduce student fees and, by the way, we’re going to invest the difference in your base budget,’” Wilcox said. “That’s not going to happen. This is all about doing the same, if not more, acknowledging increased costs, with less. That continues to be what keeps me up at night.”