TAMPA - Students at the University of South Florida will be paying a little more in tuition this fall after all.
Officials said Tuesday that USF would impose the 1.7 percent inflation-related hike to base tuition that has been debated across the university system. For a full-time, in-state student in Tampa taking 30 credits, annual tuition and fees will rise from $6,334 to $6,446.
The inflation provision became state law in 2007 to ensure that universities wouldn't fall behind economically should lawmakers or administrators freeze tuition rates from year to year. The law says that each fall, tuition should rise at least at the rate of inflation.
That has not been an issue since the provision was passed because, in the economic malaise of the past several years, universities routinely raised tuition to make up for legislative budget cuts. In Tampa, for example, the tuition portion of what students pay at registration jumped 15 percent, 15 percent and 11 percent during the past three years.
This year, flush with state tax revenue, the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the state university system.
Scott vetoed a 3 percent tuition increase passed by the Legislature and later sent letters to all university presidents asking them to refrain from any increase at all. USF was among most schools originally opting out of the inflationary increase while seeking guidance on the issue; the University of Florida and Florida State University said they would include it.
Monday night, on the eve of the state university system's three-day Board of Governors' meeting in Tampa, USF trustees were told by the university's general counsel that they did not have the authority to decline the inflation increase.
"Our feeling was that the increase had to apply to everyone," said Mark Walsh, USF's assistant vice president for government relations. "Our best evaluation is that this is the law and we have to comply with that."
A spokeswoman for Scott issued a short statement: "The governor has consistently opposed tuition increases," it read.
The new tuition figures were included in the USF work plan presented to the Board of Governors.
At USF St. Petersburg, in-state tuition and fees will rise from $5,716 to $5,881, about a 2.9 percent increase due to higher student fees. At USF Sarasota-Manatee, tuition and fees rise from $5,530 to $5,587, about a 1 percent increase overall.
Students from outside of Florida will face significantly higher tuition hikes. At the Tampa campus, out-of-state tuition and fees climb from $16,257 to $17,362, a 6.8 percent increase.
The Board of Governors accepted the annual work plans of all three USF campuses, but not after some grumbling about the performance of the St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campuses.
Mori Hosseini, a construction executive from Daytona Beach and member of the board of governors since January 2012, said USF's notable progress in focusing on the critical fields of science, technology, engineering and math "falls apart" at what he called the "branch campuses" of St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee. Twenty-four percent of USF Tampa's undergraduate degrees are in STEM fields, while just 7 percent are at St. Petersburg and 3 percent are at Sarasota-Manatee.
In an interview after her presentation, USF System president Judy Genshaft said it was incorrect to refer to the independently funded and independently accredited schools as "branch campuses."
Genshaft noted that many STEM students from St. Petersburg transfer to the Tampa campus, although more science programs are springing up there, including biology. At Sarasota-Manatee, "They don't even have labs yet to have STEM fields," she said. "We'll get all that information to the board. It's a more complicated system than other campuses have."