University Presidents Would Hold the Line on Tuition if the State Would Just Give Them More Money

By: Jim Turner | Posted: December 5, 2012 12:00 PM

Eric Barron and Bernie Machen

FSU President Eric Barron and UF President Bernie Machen

Florida's higher education leaders promise they won’t seek across-the-board tuition increases if the Legislature will just boost funding for the state’s universities by more than $100 million.

However, the proposal would not put a flat line on proposals to hike tuition for science, technology, engineering and math programs that state leaders consider a priority for helping improve the state’s work force and economic outlook.

Gov. Rick Scott, who has opposed tuition hikes, applauded the university presidents' proposal.

“We know Florida families want the best value possible from our higher education system, which means we have to make advanced degrees more affordable and more connected to students’ ability to get a great job when they graduate," Scott stated in a release.

"We are pleased to share this important goal with many of Florida’s finest higher education leaders who are committed to holding the line on tuition. We look forward to working closely with them as we put together a proposed budget and other policies for the upcoming legislative session.”

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, the chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, said he supports the state’s desire to improve its higher education offerings and could see a way to shift more money to the schools by reducing funding for health and human services.

Negron said the University of Florida and Florida State University have made great strides in the past few years, but they are still not on par with schools he considers elite, such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of California Berkley.

Part of that is due to money.

“That’s not entirely a function of money, but it is significantly a function of money,” Negron said.

“When you look at the university system in North Carolina, they spend significantly more money on higher education than we do.”

On Wednesday, students and presidents from eight of the state’s universities held a media event in the Capitol rotunda with their request for $118 million in additional funding in the 2013-2014 school year and its accompanying tuition trade-off.

The university system was cut $300 million last session, with most of the money coming from reserves.

“We cannot continue to tighten our belts without impacting our students and the quality of their education and the quality of their degree,” said University of West Florida president Judy Bense, who noted that state cutbacks have required the school to eliminate 63 programs in the past few years.

The presidents also contend that additional cuts will make it more difficult for students to graduate on time.

Bense was joined by Florida State University President Eric Barron, University of North Florida President John Delaney, University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft, University of Central Florida President John Hitt, University of Florida President Bernie Machen, New College President Donal O’Shea and Florida A&M University President Larry Robinson.

“We think the opportunity to provide new resources to the university, whether through tuition or state support, is vital to the future of our state,” said Machen.

Barron said the proposal is separate from any discussion of the pre-eminence bill that was vetoed last spring by Gov. Rick Scott.

“We’re still in favor of that bill,” Barron said.

The bill would have allowed universities seeking to boost their STEM programs to seek unlimited tuition hikes just on those programs.

The state Board of Governors has allowed tuition to grow the past four years, with four of the state’s 11 universities receiving the 15 percent maximum increases allowed for the current school year.

Senate President Don Gaetz has discussed tying additional higher education money though an incentive program that rewards schools and programs.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

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