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Monday, June 17, 2024

As a recent UF graduate, I was disappointed in the Alligator’s coverage last week of the proposed Florida Senate Bill 02 (SB02), a legislative proposal to implement “block tuition,” which would charge a flat rate for tuition for full-time students regardless of the number of credit hours they take. When block tuition was proposed in the 2010-2011 school year, UF students fought hard against it and won. It seems the saying is true: Bad ideas never really go away, they just get recycled. Did the Alligator look for any specifics on how this would financially affect students? Because there are a lot of unanswered questions about how this would be implemented.

Block tuition can function as a backdoor fee on the majority of students and disproportionately affect working students who take fewer credit hours each semester. We don’t know exactly what the base rate would be for block tuition yet, but the last time this proposal was advanced the base rate was 15 credit hours. Most students take closer to the minimum 12 hours. Since Bright Futures pays tuition based on the number of credit hours the student is enrolled in, will it be covering the gap for a student taking 12 hours but paying a fee based on 15 hours (or more)? The bill specifically mentions the state cannot be held financially liable for money owed because of block tuition.

One good thing about SB02 is that it works to restore the original functions of Bright Futures — to actually cover the tuition, fees and textbooks of Florida’s top students. When I started UF in Fall of 2007, I paid zero dollars in tuition and fees and received $300 per semester for books and other expenses. I was part of the last class to receive the full scholarship. It started eroding the following year as Florida allowed colleges and universities to tack on backdoor “fees” that would be conveniently omitted from Bright Futures funding. And with the 2008 economic collapse, schools were short on money. But it was still a broken promise to students who had made college plans around that money. Are we exchanging one backdoor fee for another?

Working students will especially be hit by this if it prices out above 12 hours. Students who work full time, some with families of their own, and still manage to take a full course load should be commended, not forced to subsidize the students that can take 18 hours.

Pressuring students into a heavier courseload also discourages students from participating in extracurricular activities. UF is admittedly a large school, both in area and the number of students. But it is made smaller by the connections that students make on campus, usually through dorms, intramural sports and clubs. These connections and these opportunities to explore our interests are pivotal parts of our development during our time at UF. The statewide numbers game over graduation rates threatens these critical college experiences.

When block tuition was last proposed, students held a referendum during the Spring 2011 election, and 90 percent of students voted in opposition to block tuition. The movement against block tuition actually ended up enjoying bipartisanship support in Student Government, a rare feat in those days. But this did not come without hard work. It was a movement with different groups working together, and that needs to happen again. Make a stink about it (legally!), both on campus and by contacting your state house and senate representatives. You deserve answers before you’re handed the bill.

Jessica Lovett is a UF alumna from the class of 2011.

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