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Education

Scott veto means USF students costs only rising slightly

Tribune staff
Published:   |   Updated: May 23, 2013 at 07:07 PM

TAMPA After two years of double-digit tuition increases, University of South Florida students will get a breather this fall.

Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of a 3 percent tuition hike for state universities means tuition at USF will remain flat, with the total tab for the 2013-14 school year at the main campus rising less than 1 percent.

A USF trustees’ group today approved work plans for the Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campuses that reflect some slight hikes in fees, but no change to base or differential tuition.

In-state tuition and fees are expected to total $6,389 at the Tampa campus, up $55 or 0.9 percent from last school year. At St. Petersburg, the tuition and fee request is for $5,823, up $107 or 1.9 percent. At Sarasota-Manatee, the request is $5,530, the same figure as last year.

The overall increases at Tampa and St. Petersburg are due to hikes in certain campus fees such as building, activity, health and athletic charges.

The trustees had previously prepared plans reflecting a 3 percent tuition hike sought by the Legislature in the 2013-14 state budget. That would have called for tuition and fees of $6,491 at the main campus.

But the governor has line-item veto power over that document. He repeatedly made clear his distaste for any tuition increase.

The flat tuition shouldn’t affect budgeting at USF, said Mark Walsh, the university’s assistant vice president for government relations. “We like to keep tuition affordable, and as long as we have sufficient money to run the institution coming from other sources, then that’s our hope – to keep tuition as reasonable as we can.”

With Florida coming out of the recession and the governor and Legislature working with record tax revenue, budget writers steered hundreds of millions toward state universities.

“The Legislature and the governor treated universities in general and USF very well,” Walsh said. “As a result I think you’re going to see not only USF but other institutions really trying to hold down tuition.”

In addition to the Legislature, universities themselves have the option to increase tuition through what is known as “differential tuition.” The work plans reflect no increase in that category.

Overall tuition increased 11 percent last year, on top of a 15 percent increase the year before.

There is one hang-up that could result in students digging a little deeper next year: By statute, universities are allowed to increase tuition along with the rate of inflation. Budget writers were trying to determine whether Scott, who is on a trade mission to Chile, intended to erase that increase with his veto. It would amount to a 1.7 percent tuition hike.

“I don’t believe that tuition ought to be going up at all; it’s been going up way too fast,” the governor said when asked about the inflation provision at the budget bill-signing on Tuesday.

Out-of-state tuition is certain to rise, however. The work plan requests tuition and fees for out-of-state undergraduates at the main campus of $17,304, up $1,047 or 6.4 percent from last year. Fees for some professional and specialty degrees also rise.

Meanwhile, the trustees voted to eliminate 17 degree programs at USF. Fifteen would be programs handled at Florida Polytechnic University, which was recently cut loose from USF. A doctorate in general biology will be replaced by two separate Ph.D. programs, one in cell and molecular biology and another in integrative biology.

The Honors College will terminate a bachelor’s degree in honors research amid declining student interest.

Trustees also voted to amend USF St. Petersburg’s master plan to allow construction of a home for the College of Business at what is now known as the “Piano Man” site. USF St. Petersburg landed $5 million in the recent legislative session to start work on the building.

The project will need another $20 million, but has achieved the important first step.

“When you have a building that has been accepted on the (list and has gotten the first amount of money, essentially, the Board of Governors is committed to having that building built,” said Judy Genshaft, president of the USF System. “That was a tipping point for us – to get it over the line. It was huge.”


jstockfisch@tampatrib.com

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