With tuition rising slightly, Gov. Rick Scott asks board to be tough on fees

Despite Gov. Rick Scott’s pleas, tuition is going up slightly at all but two of Florida’s universities.

So Scott is returning to the board that oversees state universities with a new request: Be tough on fee increases.

Scott on Wednesday asked the Florida Board of Governors to carefully consider fee hikes for students next year. The board will decide what to do Thursday as it wraps up three days of meetings at the University of South Florida.

In a letter, Scott stopped just short of asking board members to reject increased fees, saying Floridians need to be able to afford a degree in order to get a good job.

“I would ask that you consider those students and families first as you prepare to vote on the university fee increase proposals tomorrow,” Scott wrote.

Ten of 11 universities are considering raising fees, most by around $50 to $100 a year for an in-state student. (The University of Florida is holding fees flat and the state’s 12th school, Florida Polytechnic, does not yet have students.)

Several schools have bussed in students to help make the pitch to board members. But it’s unclear what board members, most of whom are appointed by Scott, will do.

Meanwhile, board members have essentially agreed to small tuition increases.

All state universities are increasing tuition by 1.7 percent next school year, as required by law to keep pace with inflation. That automatic increase was triggered once Scott vetoed a 3 percent tuition increase approved by the Legislature.

But two schools, Florida Gulf Coast University and Florida Atlantic University, said they would reduce students’ tuition bills by a similar amount to cancel out the hike. Leaders at both schools said promises they made earlier in the year coupled with additional state funding guided their decision.

But they also heard from Scott, who met with or phoned leaders at all the state universities to urge them to reject the tuition increase.

“That decision was made prior to our meeting with Gov. Scott,” said acting FAU President Dennis Crudele, whose school is eschewing an estimated $930,000.

FGCU President Wilson Bradshaw said the Legislature’s decision to give his school special funding — $6.5 million a year — made it easier to reject the tuition hike. Keeping tuition flat had been in the plan for months, he said.

“We didn’t have to readjust what we were doing,” Bradshaw said. “We had already made those assumptions.”

Though Scott’s tuition campaign was the biggest issue hanging over the Board of Governors, they mostly avoided talking about it. Instead, board members focused on student progress and goals outlined in each university’s work plan.

Florida A&M University detailed its blueprint for being removed from accreditation probation and for improving student graduation rates. Interim President Larry Robinson said enrollment may take a dip in the fall because the school is admitting fewer students that fail to meet minimum requirements.

Board of Governors members said they wanted to hear more from USF about its two branch campuses, which are lagging behind the main campus in freshman retention rates and the number of students pursuing science and math degrees. And they continued to express skepticism that Florida Polytechnic will be ready to admit its first class of students in fall 2014.

UF and Florida State University officials outlined plans to use extra funding from the Legislature to increase their national standing. UF was awarded an additional $15 million for five years in order to crack the top 10 public universities.

President Bernie Machen said he thinks the school can “make a good run” at the top 10 with that money, but stopped short of a guarantee.