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Crist drops differential tuition bill veto threat


State university presidents Wednesday persuaded Gov. Charlie Crist to drop his threatened veto of a bill that would allow three state schools to charge higher tuition than others.

Crist said he had been unaware until the meeting that the 11 presidents unanimously support the bill (SB 1710), although it would allow differential tuition only at the University of Florida, Florida State University and the University of South Florida.

That factor and a promise to delay the increases for a year until fall 2008 persuaded him to let it become law, possibly without his signature, the governor said. Saturday is the deadline for acting on it.

“It is important that we work together to have excellent institutions of higher education in this state,” Crist said. “But times are tight.”

The governor said he told the presidents he previously vetoed 5 percent tuition increases for all universities and community colleges because students and their families already are being squeezed by increasing costs for other expenses.

“They’re sympathetic to what Florida families are dealing with, with insurance and property taxes and things like that,” Crist said.

He said delaying the differential increases would give him, university officials and lawmakers an opportunity to avoid them by finding alternative dollars in the state budget.

Besides university officials, the governor also has been heavily lobbied by business leaders to approve the differential tuition. They say the money is needed to improve instruction and research so Florida will remain competitive with other states and foreign counties.

Another option is to limit enrollment, but so far only one campus has taken that step.

Two weeks ago, Florida State President T.K. Wetherell, who did not attend Wednesday’s meeting, announced his school was freezing admissions for the 2008-09 academic year. He cited the vetoed tuition increase and rising expenses.

The three schools covered by the differential bill would be able increase tuition, initially only for incoming freshmen, by 15 percent, or about $500 a year. The differentials, though, could grow up to 40 percent at Florida and Florida State after three years if the Legislature doesn’t increase systemwide tuition by then. South Florida’s differential could top out at 30 percent.

The universities would be able to use the money to hire more faculty and counselors to reduce class sizes and accommodate more students.

South Florida President Judy Genshaft said she could stop busing students to nearby movie theaters for lecture classes. That practice began because the university doesn’t have large lecture halls but couldn’t afford enough faculty to hold smaller classes.

– Associated Press

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