Florida’s trend of annual double-digit tuition increases will continue at most state schools this fall semester, after the state’s Board of Governors — following vigorous debate — approved substantial tuition hikes at 11 public universities.
Tuition at Florida International University will rise 15 percent (for the fifth year in a row), costing a full-time undergrad an extra $608.70 a year. Prices at the University of Florida will rise slightly less than the rest, with UF receiving the go-ahead on its request for a 9 percent price jump.
Florida’s Board of Governors, which oversees the university system, shares tuition-setting authority with the state Legislature, which did not raise tuition this year.
Unlike legislative tuition increases, when the board raises tuition, schools must spend 30 percent of that additional money on enhanced financial aid for needy students, while the other 70 percent must go to core learning expenses such as providing additional classes to students.
Supporters of that structure say the financial aid set-aside ensures needy students aren’t priced out of state schools.
“If we’re going to raise tuition, this is the way to do it,” said board member Hector “Tico” Perez.
University presidents say the higher tuition is necessary to cushion the blow of state budget cuts during the sour economy. State government’s contribution to the cost of a college education has been steadily shrinking — system-wide, universities this year absorbed a $300 million cut in the budget approved by state lawmakers and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.
But balancing university budgets on the backs of students and their families strikes some as unfair. Board of Governors member Matthew Carter II urged his colleagues keep tuition flat for at least one year, citing the “current economic trends in this country.”
“I think it’s the wrong time,” Carter said, adding that there are “a lot of people out there, moms and dads, students, who are working two or three jobs.”
Carter’s sentiment, echoed by others on the board, would only slow — but not stop — the large tuition increases college presidents were seeking. An early series of tie votes left the board unable to approve anything, but one board member then switched from a “no” to a “yes” vote, paving the way for FIU and other state schools to get the 15 percent increases they wanted.
Not every school president left happy, however. After the board couldn’t find the votes for a 15 percent increase at Florida State University, a 13 percent jump was approved instead.
FSU President Eric Barron, visibly frustrated, interrupted the board proceedings to complain. Barron said the board was hurting the state’s most prestigious research schools.
“Those are the universities that are supposed to keep the best and brightest students in this state,” Barron said.
Florida A&M University also received a slightly-lower price jump, with the board allowing only a 12 percent increase after board members voiced concerns about the school’s low graduation rate and the already-high average debt load of its students.
Though Florida’s in-state tuition is still a bargain when compared to schools nationally, the price of attending college in the Sunshine State has more than doubled in the past decade. Those price increases have been coupled with reductions in state financial aid, including the popular Bright Futures scholarship program.
Prior to Thursday’s vote, Gov. Scott urged the board to reject any significant tuition increase. Scott noted the rapid rise of Florida tuition in recent years, and said that the out-of-pocket spending by Bright Futures scholarship recipients is $5,000 higher than it was five years ago.
“If you think about what we all should expect out of our higher ed, we should expect it’s affordable, so that all Floridians, whether they’re rich or poor, can go to our universities and state colleges,” Scott told reporters on Wednesday.
But Scott’s signing of the annual budget — and its $300 million cut to universities — prompted one reporter to ask the governor whether his words matched his actions.
“Absolutely,” Scott responded.
As the board debated tuition increases on Thursday, board members noted that the budget cuts forced several schools to dig so deep into their financial reserves that they risked running afoul of legal requirements that dictate a university have an adequate rainy-day fund.
The state budget signed by Scott also assumed that schools would request — and receive — a 15 percent tuition increase.
“It seems to me that the Legislature and the governor have agreed to this number,” board member Perez said.
Miami Herald Staff Writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.