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Is USF affordable? Students say they can barely pay for food, housing

Out of the three most affordable Florida schools in the list including University of Florida and Florida State University, USF is ranked third. ORACLE PHOTO/JUSTIN SEECHARAN

Before classes started this year, junior studio art major Anna Waite spent around $300 on supplies, which was just one of the many big purchases needed throughout the semester. 

She said paying for major-specific items, like art supplies and books that are not covered by her scholarship, on top of her on-campus housing and meal plan make it difficult for her to budget for things outside of campus necessities. 

“It’s stressful,” Waite said. “And I don’t have a lot of spending money outside of school stuff, because I’m shelling out all this money into a meal plan and stuff. So I can’t really eat anywhere else besides the Hub.” 

USF made Research.com’s list of Most Affordable Colleges in America for 2023-24 earlier this month, ranking fourth in the general list and third in the state of Florida.

The national average cost of attendance is $11,560 for in-state and $27,320 for out-of-state. That puts USF’s tuition of $6,410 for in-state and $17,324 for out-of-state well below that average, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Despite the school’s low tuition and scholarship opportunities, housing, meal plans and class supplies are expenses that weigh on some students like Waite.

This strain is noticed at the Feed-a-Bull pantry which is currently experiencing an increase in demand when compared to previous years. The pantry saw 1,000 total visits within the first four weeks of the fall semester and is nearing the previous school year’s total of 4,770 visits.

Pre-health major Gabriela Ospina said she considers USF to be considerably affordable, especially as a Florida student with the Bright Futures scholarship. 

Around 74.2% of Florida residents receive a Bright Futures scholarship as of drop/add week in fall 2022, according to the 2022-23 USF Factbook.

The scholarship covers Ospina’s tuition, but not her housing or meal plan, which she said are among the most expensive parts of studying at USF for her. 

Even then, Ospina said she considers USF cheaper than other schools in the state and the country. 

Ospina also said USF’s low tuition compared to other universities in the country might have influenced students outside of Florida as well. 

Many students come to USF from other states because USF’s out-of-state tuition is lower than in-state tuition in places such as North Carolina or New Jersey, according to Ospina.

USF saw 1,198 new out-of-state students from 51 states as of drop/add week in fall 2022, according to the 2022-23 USF Factbook. In-state tuition and fees in 2021-22 averaged $8,555 in New York, $15,312 in Pennsylvania and $14,963 in New Jersey, according to data from CollegeBoard.

Although the cost of tuition is lower at USF compared to other schools, sophomore business management major Rosa Nafrere said it would be difficult for her to afford had she not obtained scholarships – an opportunity many students don’t have.

“College is very expensive, and I don’t know if I’d be able to afford this if I didn’t have scholarships and college grants. I’d have to take out loans, which I wouldn’t want to do,” Nafrere said.

Nafrere said she also believes housing is overpriced. Dorm rates currently range from $3,070 to $6,130 per semester and are set to increase annually by a 4.5% weighted average for the next five years.

The first and second place in Research.com’s list were awarded to University of Florida and Florida State University, respectively. Even though both schools’ tuition is higher than USF’s, the cost of living is slightly lower at $10,950 for room and board at UF and $11,565 at FSU, compared to USF’s $12,568.

For history major Hunter Wilson, paying for housing is not an issue. However, Wilson said he recognizes the weight of housing expenses and how its absence in his life benefits his studies. 

“I live with my parents, so they take care of housing, bills, chores [and] groceries. So pretty much the only expense I have is tuition itself. I work part-time and it covers almost all my expenses, and I actually have a lot of free time,” Wilson said.

Nafrere said that scholarships and grants ease tensions when it comes to studying. She said having scholarships makes it easier for her because she doesn’t depend on a job to cover university expenses, which allows her to choose whether or not to work.

“I’m not too stressed about making sure I’m paying these crazy amounts of money. I can really focus on being a student because my scholarships allow me to just be a student and learn and focus on my career path,” she said.

Nafrere said that while USF is affordable to her, many students still struggle to pay tuition and other fees. USF’s affordability depends on each student’s individual background, according to Nafrere. 

“Everyone gets income from different places…I’m here mostly on a scholarship, so I wouldn’t say it’s affordable for everyone because there’s still a lot of people who have to work a lot to go to class and live on campus.”