Universities would freeze tuition — for a priceby John Kennedy | December 5th, 2012
University presidents and student leaders Wednesday said schools would put a temporary moratorium on tuition increases if Florida lawmakers approve $118 million in new funding next year.
The offer was part of the Aim Higher campaign unveiled at the state Capitol, a public relations offensive rolled out three months before the start of the legislative session. The push is designed to underscore the role universities play in sparking economic development in Florida — while also building a case for more taxpayer support.
The $118 million would be spread across Florida’s 12 public universities. Universities want it to come on top of the Legislature restoring the $300 million cut from universities last year — a decision that helped fuel the latest round of tuition increases, which this fall ranged from 9 percent to 15 percent.
University of Florida President Bernard Machen said Wednesday that dollars have to come either from taxpayers or tuition, but that supporting universities is “vital to this state.”
Gov. Rick Scott opposed the tuition hikes and appears poised to dig-in again when lawmakers return to Tallahassee for the spring legislative session. But University of West Florida President Judy Bense said that if lawmakers grant the $118 million increase, “We promise not to seek one penny of a tuition increase this year.”
Still, the University of Florida and Florida State University plan to seek legislative approval for a measure that would allow them to hike tuition to the “market rate” — effectively whatever students will pay. Earlier this year, Scott vetoed the legislation, but UF, FSU and other schools which could later qualify for the tuition privilege support making another attempt at convincing the governor this year.
While the average annual tuition to a Florida public university has spiked in recent years to $6,232 this fall, Florida’s cost ranks only 41st highest in the nation among public university systems.
The $300 million reduction in taxpayer funding this year came after taxpayer dollars tumbled 24 percent the preceding four years, heightening the focus on tuition.
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, the Senate’s budget chairman, said he agreed that more money should flow into education — but stopped short of endorsing the pitch made by university leaders.
Scott, who has criticized Florida schools for seeking tuition increases while still handing out robust salaries to administrators, embraced the leaders’ commitment to freeezing tuition. But Scott, too, didn’t advance the request for additional funding.
“We know Florida families want the best value possible from our higher education system, which means we have to make advanced degrees more affordable and more connected to
students’ ability to get a great job when they graduate,” Scott said. “We are pleased to share this important goal with many of Florida’s finest higher education leaders who are committed to holding the line on tuition.”