Politics

Board of Governors Approves Pre-eminence but Ignores Tuition for Now

By: Brandon Larrabee News Service of Florida | Posted: June 11, 2013 3:55 AM
UF and FSU Seals

UF and FSU Seals

The Florida Board of Governors approved the designation of the University of Florida and Florida State University as "pre-eminent" universities during a brief telephone meeting Monday afternoon.

But the board did not address a conflict brewing between Gov. Rick Scott and several of the state's institutions of higher education about whether tuition costs will automatically go up for the coming school year -- a conflict that could end up before the panel next week.

The designation as a pre-eminent university would allow UF to operate an online institute in an effort to encourage Internet-based education, in line with legislation (SB 1076) approved earlier this year by the Legislature. It would also give greater flexibility to both UF and FSU, according to the board, and boost funding for both schools.

Board members said the proposal is largely in line with what they had proposed to the Legislature in terms of dealing with online education, but they also noted a quick timeline for implementing the bill: Under the legislation, UF is supposed to present a plan for the online institute by Sept. 1.

"It's been a lot of work and a lot accomplished in a relatively short time," said Chairman Dean Colson.

At the same time, the board didn't speak about the ongoing controversy about what some universities say is an automatic, 1.7 percent increase in tuition costs that will take effect with the state budget July 1. Under state law, if the Legislature doesn't approve a tuition increase in the state budget, an automatic hike equal to the estimated rate of inflation kicks in.

Lawmakers approved a 3 percent increase in the budget they sent to Scott, but the governor vetoed it and has pressed for universities to either not institute the automatic increase or offset it by lowering the differential tuition universities are allowed to charge to undergraduates.

The issue could come squarely before the board during its meeting next week, when any differential tuition proposals would be heard.

The board of trustees at one school, Florida Gulf Coast University, is set to consider a plan Tuesday that would essentially follow Scott's plan, "resulting in the same tuition cost to students as if there was no tuition increase," according to a copy of the proposal on the school's Web site.

Others have taken different routes. Several schools, including UF and FSU, have signaled that they intend to go ahead with the 1.7 percent increase. The University of South Florida was lauded by Scott in a statement Friday for not raising rates, but university officials said they were waiting for instructions from the Board of Governors.

In the same statement, Scott blasted UF and FSU in particular for going ahead with the tuition hike.

"We must continue to provide Florida students with value in their education system, and I do not agree with any tuition increase on Florida families," Scott said.

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