Lawmakers battle tuition hikes

Kieron Williams/Staff Writer

Gov. Rick Scott is pushing legislators to remove Florida’s tuition differential law that allows universities to increase the cost up to 15 percent each year.

A tuition cap of this level would save Florida students a lot of money, but as the push to remove the law gains momentum, some factors are being considered — reasons the law was passed in the first place.

According to Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Jessell, tuition differential revenue helps the University admit additional students and provides need-based financial aid.

The current law requires that 30 percent of each tuition increase goes to need-based financial aid. According to Vice President of Governmental Relations Steve Sauls, there are 10,000 students a year that are attending FIU because of that aid.

According to the Higher Education Consultants Association, Florida is facing the greatest decline in total revenue in the United States, and a significant decline in educational appropriations.

“We’re experiencing declining state support at a faster rate than many other states, and our tuition is already well below the national average,” Sauls said. “In recent years, the amount of money generated by tuition has been greater than the total amount of money received by the state.”

Scott is not only attempting to repeal the law to increase tuition, but also a law that allows universities to increase in cost to compensate for inflation. Differential tuition is a significant portion of FIU’s budget, allowing the school to fund new programs, hire new professors, and keep these things sustainable.

In 2012, the Florida Board of Governors approved a request by FIU to increase tuition by 15 percent — the highest differential tuition last year.

In the short term, every student felt this increase, as the typical full-time FIU student paid an additional $608.70 a year.

The revenue gained from the increase was used to hire 61 new faculty members and bolster STEM programs, and generated $5.9 million in additional need-based financial aid.

A State University System report showed that differential tuition revenue in 2012-2013 hired and retained 1,444 faculty members and saved or added 11,358 course sections state-wide.

Universities collected a combined $236 million last year, and $143 million in 2011-2012 — double the $76 million in 2010-2011.

Scott wants to eliminate future tuition hikes. He is up for reelection in November.

Universities hope if lawmakers lower differential tuition, they’ll make up for it by allocating more state funding.

The Board of Governors asked for 4 percent more of University operations for 2014-2015 and asked the Legislature for $50 million to be distributed as part of its new performance funding model that rewards schools that improve in areas like graduation rates.

FIU is eligible for $7.2 million under this new model.

Florida’s public university tuition remains one of the lowest in the country. The average tuition at a four-year institution for an in-state student is $8,893 — $6,336 in Florida — according to the College Board.

– kieron.williams@fiusm.com

About the Author

Kieron Williams
: I'm a Communications Arts major, and once I graduate I hope to use my degree and writing skills to become a screenwriter and novelist. I'm in my junior year at FIU, hoping to graduate by 2016, and I'm also Vice President of the FIU Film Initiative. I write for the News section, Life, and Opinion.

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