Divided Board of Governors OKs tuition increases

Jun 21, 2012

The following article was published in The Florida Current on June 21, 2012:

Divided Board of Governors Ok’s Tuition Increases

By James Call


A divided Board of Governors struggled Thursday at times but finally reached agreement to raise tuition at Florida’s public universities.  The increases range from 9 percent to 15 percent. Most of the 11 current schools sought a 15 percent boost to partially offset a $300 million cut to the state university system by the Legislature.

Gov. Rick Scott who opposed the hikes issued a statement expressing his disappointment in the board’s decision.

“Tuition rates have risen 71 percent over the past four years and graduates are facing unprecedented levels of debt,” Scott said in a prepared statement.  “We can’t continue on this path.”

The meeting in Orlando was tense at times. After the board voted down a 15 percent and then a 14 percent increase for Florida State University, the school’s president, Eric Barron asked, “Is this the message we want to send?” Barron referred to the effect on students and faculty if what he called the state’s research and “brand” universities got less of an increase than other schools. The comment apparently upset some in the room. The board quickly approved a 13 percent hike for FSU by a two-vote margin and Chairman Dean Colson advised everyone to calm down.

The University of Central Florida sat through five votes and watched its request whittled down to 12 percent before its original proposal of 15 percent was approved. The board debated different increases for each school before finding a number that met with a majority’s approval.

The voting bloc to approve was ever-changing. Board members debated the financial effect the increases would have on students and questioned how the school intended to use the money. The University of South Florida’s plan — to divert 40 percent of the money from the hike to financial aid — helped gather the votes for an 11 percent increase in differential tuition after a proposed 9 percent — with 30 percent going to financial aid — failed. The University of West Florida failed to get the votes for a 12 percent hike and then saw a proposed 14 percent approved by a 9-7 vote. Most of the requests were decided by either a 2- or 3-vote margin. Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson appeared to vote no on all proposals.

Robinson answers to Scott and as education commissioner has a seat on the 17-member board. The governor also appoints 14 other members. The statement Scott’s office released Thursday reminded the board of the priorities he spelled out Tuesday when its meeting began.

“It is my priority to keep the cost of living low for Floridians and have an education system that produces the most competitive, highly skilled workforce in the world,” Scott’s release said. “And I expect our universities and the Board of Governors to seek those same goals.”

But when the votes were counted all 11 schools received permission to raise tuition.

“Not as pretty of a process that we would like,” said Colson at the meeting’s close. “But the debate has been good.”

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