TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a host of measures to hold the line on college tuition costs and expand cheaper in-state tuition to more students.
“I want students that grew up in our state to have the same chance to live the American dream that we all have for ourselves and our kids,” Scott said in a stop Monday near Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, part of a tour touting the provisions of House Bill 851.
“So if you grew up in our state, you’re going to have the same chance at in-state tuition that your peers are going to have. And you’re going to know that your tuition is not going up every year.”
Among its highlights, the bill:
♦ Bans increases in tuition without the Legislature’s approval at all of Florida’s 12 public universities except Florida State and the University of Florida.
♦ Reduces from 15 percent to 6 percent the maximum annual hike by those two schools.
♦ Reduces costs related to the Florida Prepaid College Program.
♦ Eliminates the automatic rate-of-inflation tuition increases at Florida universities.
♦ Extends out-of-state tuition waivers to all military veterans.
♦ Waives undergraduate tuition altogether for a recipient of a Purple Heart or another combat decoration.
♦ Extends out-of-state tuition waivers to students brought to the U.S. illegally.
Waivers now will be available to any student who entered the U.S. illegally as long as they attended a Florida high school for at least three consecutive years. The current in-state tuition cost is one-quarter of what is paid by out-of-state students and those in the country illegally.
College tuition at public schools in Florida is lower than in all but seven states, according to research by the College Board. This has raised concerns in the past among higher-education leaders about a decline in the quality of a Florida college education. But few objections were raised this session about the effort to hold the line on costs.
The bill was sponsored in the House by state Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami, who said it will “provide our students with more opportunities to live the American dream.”
Added state Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who sponsored the bill in the Senate: “Tuition costs are going to go down for a lot of folks.”
At the beginning of spring’s legislative session, Scott told the lawmakers’ Hispanic delegation he would consider HB 851 but pledged no support. After the bill was blocked by state Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, a powerful opponent of the in-state tuition provision, Scott threw his support behind the measure and lobbied leaders including Senate President Don Gaetz, a Panhandle Republican.
“When Sen. Negron refused to hear it, (Scott) got engaged and talked to the Senate president,” Latvala said. “He helped us get it to the floor.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.