The Florida Board of Governors (BOG) discussed the possibility of increasing state university tuition to offset budget cuts forced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Should the BOG decide to move forward with the proposed 2021-2022 tuition increases, Florida students would be facing the first state-wide tuition increase since 2013.
As it stands, according to a presentation slide from the BOG’s Budget and Finance Committee, Florida currently has the second-lowest undergraduate tuition in the country at $6,352 per year, well below the national average of $10,487 per year. It would take more than a 65% increase in tuition for Florida to match the national average.
Board members were split on whether a tuition increase would benefit or harm the state university system and made no definitive decision on the subject.
Board member Eric Silagy remarked that despite the recent pandemic, “we’re not reducing expenses, we’re keeping revenue from tuition flat and basically looking at state tax dollars to make up the difference.”
However, board member Norman Tripp was more hesitant to support the tuition increase, remembering back to a few years ago when “the Legislature decided that if we wanted to increase our income, we could do it by raising tuition. Every year they lowered basically the state support, and we tried to make it up on the backs of students by raising tuition.”
“It’s taken us a long time to reverse that, and I think we have to be very, very careful we don’t go back to that type of scenario,” Tripp cautioned.
Florida’s tradition of low state university tuition dates back to former Governor Rick Scott’s time in office when Scott refused to entertain any talk of tuition hikes. For example, when former Florida State University Board of Trustees chairman Allan Bense voted in favor of a small tuition increase tied to inflation, Scott decided against reappointing Bense when his term on the board expired three years later.
Through the first two years of his term, current Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) maintained Scott’s doctrine on university tuition. However, the current coronavirus-induced economic slump has drastically changed the situation. DeSantis recently directed all Florida departments and agencies, including the state university system, to find a way to cut their 2021-2022 budgets by 10%.
Some board members contend that relying solely on spending cuts to reduce university budgets could negatively impact student success.
Potential cuts proposed to the BOG’s Budget and Finance Committee include eliminating existing faculty and staff positions, reducing library resources/service/hours and eliminating certain course offerings. One proposed cut even recommended consolidating or eliminating entire academic departments or colleges. A tuition increase would help limit the number and severity of potential spending cuts.
“It’s the right conversation to have,” said Brian Lamb, the board’s vice chair and chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee. “It’s just prudent to look at all the levers we have to pull to ultimately invest in the No. 1 state university system in the country.”
Based on supporting documentation presented by Tim Jones, the BOG’s Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration, it appeared unlikely that the board would recommend a tuition increase for the 2021-2022 school year, though the issue may resurface in future meetings.
The Board of Governors must submit its final budget request for 2021-2022 to the state legislature by Oct. 15.
Featured image: Century Tower on the University of Florida campus. Unmodified photo by Kate Haskell used under a Creative Commons License. (https://bit.ly/3hYxafy)
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