Bold BOG's in tandem with lawmakers on tuition hike
Source: Tallahassee Democrat
Having already put a freeze on freshman enrollment in Florida's public universities - which haven't received legislative funding to accommodate growth in nearly six years - the Board of Governors on Thursday took its second bold step forward in bolstering the State University System.
Meeting in Tallahassee, the board voted to raise tuition by 5 percent for undergraduates, effective this coming spring semester.
That means a full-time student taking 15 credit hours will pay an additional $55 per semester, a modest increase in a state where tuition is at or near the bottom of all 50 states, where vast numbers of students are on Bright Futures scholarships that are not need-based, and where our universities have been dropping like a rock in almost all important measurable categories.
BOG Chairman Carolyn Roberts, championing the increase, expressed her frustration at Florida having the lowest faculty-student ratio of any university system in the country. This is a very big deal. No matter how welcome all Florida students are to seek a college degree, if our universities don't have the money to hire sufficient top-notch faculty - not just grad-student teaching assistants - to teach the classes students need when they need them, students don't graduate on time.
The upshot - and a point Gov. Charlie Crist has surely not overlooked - is that delays in graduating end up costing students far, far more than $55 per semester for one or two more years of room and board. (Students spend more than $55 per semester at coffee shops.)
Apparently the dismal message about our universities has been heard across town where legislative committees have been in progress this week. On Thursday the Senate dittoed the House's Wednesday recommendation to include this 5-percent tuition hike in the budgets they'll be working on in special session next week.
This hike is not inconsistent with lawmakers' chief task of cutting the state budget by $1.1 billion; on the contrary it is a means of raising revenues microcosmically.
Nevertheless, though the BOG is a constitutionally independent body, it is certainly not independent from politics. And so it was with some delicacy that it proceeded with the tuition hike, knowing that Mr. Crist is resisting it, and also directing a portion of the tuition increase be dedicated to need-based aid.
This should help appease Florida A&M University President James Ammons, who has made a special pleading for his student population, which tends to come from a lower economic demographic than the other universities.
Chancellor Mark Rosenberg also intends to ask his board to continue discussing increases in tuition and fees over the next three years, as a means of bringing SUS back from the abyss.
How far Mr. Rosenberg's board can proceed unilaterally is not yet crystal clear. A lawsuit has been filed asserting its autonomy, but until that is resolved, it is significant that lawmakers are in tandem with the BOG in terms of raising tuition.
Meanwhile, however, university presidents and trustees systemwide haven't been too certain about which side of the bread their butter's on, and most haven't shown their hand regarding this $55 hike. But, in fact, the universities have had to write their budgets in accordance with the status quo - minus the critical reductions demanded of all state agencies.
In this precarious political environment, Thursday's unanimous vote by the BOG was significant, essential and not a minute too soon.