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Shifting More Burden To Students, Lawmakers OK 15% Tuition Hike at Florida Universities

| February 2, 2012

Still wondering why they're demonstrating?

Pitting the chamber against the wishes of Gov. Rick Scott, the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved a spending plan that calls for an 8 percent tuition increase, continuing an effort to shift more of the cost in higher education to students instead of taxpayers.

A day after Scott said he wanted lawmakers to hold the line on tuition, the panel approved a budget that relies on an 8 percent base increase for university students to balance the higher education budget, which already will see cuts as lawmakers try to fill a budget gap shortfall of deeper than $1.5 billion.

The state’s 11 public universities would be allowed to raise tuition by an additional 7 percent on top of that base increase, a system known as differential tuition, under the proposal. Last year, universities raised tuition 8 percent at the direction of the Legislature, and the schools tacked on the full 7 percent differential hike for a 15 percent increase. Tuition has gone up every year for the past six years in Florida.

For universities, the proposed tuition increase would amount to $54 million in new incoming money; state college students would pay additional $73 million under the 8 percent tuition hike.

On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott said he opposes any increase in student tuition.

Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, and chairwoman of the House’s budget committee, said the governor may have to acquiesce on the tuition issue. The proposed increase will likely be nestled into budget’s proviso language, which the courts have largely determined are off limits to the governor’s line item veto power.

The Senate is not expected to release its spending plan for at least a few weeks. Allocations for the Senate budget – how much of the money will go to which parts of the spending pie – have yet to be distributed to budget chairmen, but may be made public later this week.

Speaking to reporters later Wednesday, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said the chamber would likely follow the House and include tuition hikes as part of its proposed budget.

“We have the fifth lowest tuition in the country, sometimes people lose sight of that,” said Haridopolos, who teaches classes at the University of Florida. “The vast majority of students in my class are on Bright Futures so it’s still a great deal for Florida students. … I would not be surprised if it’s roughly the number the House is talking about.”

The legislative decisions put the chambers on a collision course with Scott, who told reporters Tuesday that he does not want lawmakers to raise rates again.

“We have to tighten our belts and save money, Scott said. “What we have to focus on is how do we reduce our costs rather than how do we raise the tuition.”

Scott said he doesn’t agree that tuition hikes are acceptable because Florida students already pay some of the lowest tuition in the country.

“Why wouldn’t you want that,” Scott said of low tuition. “I want the cost of living to be lower in this state than other states, not higher.”

–Michael Peltier, News Service of Florida

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