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Florida Ponders Higher Education Tuition Increases

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Tuition increases and varying tuition rates based on a student’s year in school or academic field are among draft proposals being considered by Gov. Rick Scott’s higher education task force.

The panel is scheduled to hold a webinar Friday to discuss those and other suggestions before finalizing its recommendations to the Republican governor and GOP-controlled Legislature.

The working draft of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on State Higher Education notes that Florida’s tuition rates remain among the lowest in the nation and includes comparisons with universities in other states.

For example, annual tuition is $6,403 at Florida State University and $6,170 at the University of Florida, the state’s two leading research schools. That compares to $7,694 at the University of North Carolina, $10,037 at Ohio State University and $16,006 at Pennsylvania State University.

Tuition at Florida’s then-11 active universities increased by 22 percent, or $202.2 million, from 2007-08 through 2009-10, according to the draft. Over that same three-year period, though, state support dropped by 19 percent, or $443.3 million, for a net loss of $241.1 million.

“If the foregoing conditions persist, it should be understood by all interested parties that Florida’s research universities and, to a lesser extent, all of the institutions are vulnerable to (faculty) ‘raids,’ some of which have already occurred,” the draft says.

Out-of-state universities have been recruiting top professors by offering salaries that Florida’s cash-strapped universities cannot match.

The proposals include scrapping an existing 15 percent annual cap on tuition increases and giving individual schools more flexibility to set their own rates in line with their missions and guidelines as set by the Board of Governors, which oversees the State University System.

Giving individual universities’ boards of trustees that kind of authority would require the Legislature to give up its tuition-setting authority unless the Florida Supreme Court does it for lawmakers. In a case pending before the high court, former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, a Democrat, and others contend a constitutional amendment that created the Board of Governors also gives that panel tuition-setting authority.

Another idea is to give the universities the ability to set varying tuition rates, perhaps higher for upper class students than for freshmen and sophomores. Another option is to charge higher rates for degree programs that are more costly or more likely to result in higher-paying jobs.

For example, some universities in other states charge more for business and engineering than they do for liberal arts.

Lawmakers also would have to give up some budgeting authority under another proposal that calls for appropriating a lump sum to the Board of Governors instead of earmarking separate amounts for each of the 12 universities. The draft notes that the board cannot truly govern the university system if it doesn’t control funding.

Other proposals include expanding online degree opportunities, using performance funding to reward schools for programs that turn out students prepared for high-wage and high-skill careers and continuing to develop metrics designed to ensure students and taxpayers get a good return on their investments in higher education.

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