TALLAHASSEE -- Seeking to offset an automatic 1.7 percent tuition increase, Gov. Rick Scott is meeting with university leaders one by one and lobbying them to cut tuition rates by an equal amount next year.
Its not working.
The University of Florida and Florida State University boards of trustees voted Friday to reject the governors offer. Other university leaders have signaled they could do the same this week. And some, like the University of South Florida, want guidance from the state Board of Governors before making a decision.
Its a big loss for Scott, who had all-but-promised no tuition increases next year and who directly or indirectly appoints a majority of university trustees. But university officials, supported by House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, say they need additional revenues to begin to compensate for the losses generated by the downturn in the economy and state budget cuts.
No one likes to raise tuition, but I think the essence for us as a governing board is to make sure we use these dollars wisely, make sure that we deliver value, said FSU trustee Ed Burr.
Scott has called raising tuition a tax increase even though he approved an 8 percent tuition increase in 2011 and has been making his case to anyone who will listen. University of West Florida President Judy Bense said she didnt feel pressured during a meeting with Scott last week, though she didnt make any promises.
Bense explained to Scott that UWF lost $30 million in state funding since 2007. Tuition increases helped, but did not do enough to plug gaps in the $85 million budget. UWF would lose $388,000 by rejecting the automatic 1.7 percent tuition increase.
It probably means four or five faculty positions, it could mean advisers, it could mean many people that we cant hire or that we might have to let go, Bense said.
Benses board meets Tuesday, as does the board at the University of North Florida. Both schools have included the small tuition increase in their preliminary budgets.
The fact that the governor has positions on things is fine, Bense said. But at the end of the day my paycheck and my responsibility is to run this university.
Scott criticized UF and FSU for approving the tuition increase last week and praised USF for holding the line on tuition. But he was wrong in assuming USF has taken his side.
If the state Board of Governors, which oversees the university system, says schools cant legally reject the inflation adjustment, USFs board will likely amend its budget to include the additional $1.5 million, officials there said.
This is the first year an automatic inflation adjustment, passed in 2007, is being triggered because larger tuition increases had been written into previous budgets or were approved by the states Board of Governors.
Even after receiving phone calls from Scott, FSUs board voted to include the 1.7 percent tuition increase in its budget earmarking half of the $1.3 million increase for financial aid.
UF trustees will use the additional $1.4 million for scholarships and building maintenance, officials there said.
For many students, an increase in tuition means an increase in the debt burden they will carry, Scott said, responding to the news in a statement. This increase comes at a time when interest rates on student loans are scheduled to double next month.