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Monday, May 27, 2024

UF's administration and students are on the same page when it comes to the Tuition Differential Program - more advisers and faculty members are crucial, they said.

Members of UF's Student Senate offered suggestions to three university officials about which departments need the new advisers and professors most during an open forum before the Senate meeting Tuesday night.

The Tuition Differential Program will incrementally raise tuition 40 percent over four years, so long as it doesn't exceed 15 percent per year. It will go into effect next fall.

"What's nice is that what I'm thinking about is what students want," said Albert Matheny, the head of UF's Academic Advising Center in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, after the meeting.

Matheny, along with Daniel Wubah, UF associate provost for undergraduate affairs, and Marie Zeglen, UF assistant provost and director of institutional planning and research, led the forum.

Zeglen said UF has 21 students per one faculty member. That's 33 percent worse than the average ratios at UF's peer institutions, which are about 16 students per one faculty member, she said.

UF is dead last among those peer institutions.

Zeglen said those ratios rear their ugly heads when students try to register for classes.

"If we can't create a little more capacity, it's going to be harder for you to get in the sections you need," Zeglen said.

Matheny said UF's Advising Center faces similar troubles.

In the past few years, the number of applicants to UF has steadily increased. At the same time, the caliber of the students has also escalated, he said.

Ninety-six percent of UF students receive merit-based financial aid from the Bright Futures Scholarship Program, which is funded by the Florida Lottery and controlled by the Legislature.

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Because state funding pays for the vast majority of UF students' education, increasing tuition is a touchy subject, he said.

"If you want to raise tuition, you're really just telling the Legislature, 'Gimme more money,'" Matheny said.

Incoming students also require higher-level courses sooner, and there simply isn't room in those classes, he said.

Meanwhile, baby-boom-era professors are retiring, and there isn't any money to hire new professors to fill the empty slots.

Several student senators reiterated the need for advisers and faculty, suggesting areas where they might be most useful, such as the College of Health and Human Performance, the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Matheny said UF administrators would take a broad look at each college's needs before hiring anyone, which might take awhile.

It's important for UF to keep attracting bright in-state students so Florida can continue benefiting from all the homegrown talent, he said.

"I realize that these students are so damn good - better than we deserve," Matheny said. "Raising tuition even a little bit will still make us the cheapest school in the world."

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