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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Board of Governors voted at a meeting Thursday to increase tuition at the state's 11 public universities by 5 percent this spring.

The mandatory increase will take effect in January, despite Gov. Charlie Crist's veto in May of a 5 percent hike proposed by the Florida Legislature.

In the past, the board has allowed the Legislature to determine undergraduate tuition. However, the board continually asserted that it had the constitutional power to set those rates, said Bill Edmonds, the board's spokesman.

Since the Legislature unsuccessfully tried to raise tuition earlier this year, the board, which is the State University System's highest governing body, decided to set tuition for the first time, Edmonds said.

"It was a historic action," he said. "The time has come."

When the board first proposed the increase at a July meeting, it also joined a lawsuit with former Florida Sen. Bob Graham to wrest control of tuition from the Legislature.

"I don't believe we are going to have ill will," said Carolyn Roberts, the board's chairwoman, after the meeting. "The legislators I know are citizens who are dedicated to a great state."

Roberts said a circuit judge would rule on the lawsuit by December.

If the final ruling says the board doesn't have the power, then "we will live by the courts," Roberts said. "We welcome a clarification."

The board did not initially consider the Bright Futures scholarship program, which is controlled by the Legislature, in the tuition hike. But Edmonds said he expects there should be enough Bright Future funds to cover the increase.

He said the Legislature had already planned for a 5 percent increase before Crist's veto.

That increase would have taken effect this fall, which means by the time tuition climbs in spring, there should be at least 10 percent of unused Bright Future funds available.

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"Our tuition conversation does not include Bright Futures," Roberts said. Florida legislators "have the power and the authority to deal with it as they see fit."

UF President Bernie Machen said UF would welcome the increase when it becomes available.

Machen said it would be easy for students to adjust to the small increase, especially if Bright Futures bolsters it.

Still, the hike won't pull UF completely out of the red.

"It's about a ,2 million item in a year when we're having to cut 34 million out of our budget," Machen said in an interview after the meeting. "It really won't make a significant impact this year, but of course, it'll be in the budget next year."

The total increase will bring about ,9.5 million to the State University System in spring, which would be about ,3.68 per credit hour.

For a student taking 15 credit hours, the increase would be about ,55.

This increase would still leave Florida lagging behind the national tuition average for public universities by more than ,2,000, according to documents from the board. The board's goal is to catch up with the national average of ,5,836, Roberts said.

Initially, 30 percent of the new revenue was slated to go toward need-based aid, but the board decided Thursday to allow the individual universities to delegate aid themselves.

"I'm optimistic that we're moving in the right direction," said Chancellor Mark Rosenberg after the meeting.

Rosenberg said the board has not discussed how a possible lack of Bright Future funding would affect students in wake of the increase, but he added that he's confident the Legislature will provide the needed funds.

"Every day I wake up I have concerns about hundreds of issues. The most important concern that I wake up with is my students and their ability to get a quality education," he said. "Right now, I don't believe they're getting the quality they deserve."

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