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Against tuition debate, Florida universities plan funding announcement

TALLAHASSEE — University presidents and student leaders will convene at the Capitol this morning to roll out their new funding campaign.

The State University System has requested $118 million in additional funding in the 2013-2014 budget to be distributed among the 12 universities and tied to performance.

But the amount is notable because is it equal to what universities would receive if they increased tuition by the maximum 15 percent allowable by state law something Gov. Rick Scott has made clear he opposes.

At the last Florida Board of Governors meeting, members said they would consider forgoing tuition increases if the state granted this $118 million request. Board of Governors spokeswoman Kim Wilmath said the announcement will be a "candid discussion about the value of higher education to the state of Florida."

"They are going to gather with a proposal for legislators about funding higher education in the upcoming session," she said.

Tuition has become a point of debate between Gov. Scott and higher education leaders.

Scott is urging colleges and universities to make degrees cheaper. But educators, and even the governor's own higher education task force, have said that either tuition has to rise or the state has to allocate more funds for universities to meet their bottom lines.

Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican who is chairman of the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee, said he disagrees with Scott's hard stance against tuition increases. He thinks there should be flexibility in the funding policy to address the unique needs of each university.

"I do see situations where in certain universities perhaps there shouldn't be an increase and certain universities there should be," he said. "And I think that the market conditions and the enrollment conditions should be the driving force behind that policy and not just some blanket policy for all universities."

Sen. Dwight Bullard, a Miami Democrat, said the state should give universities more money, especially if it means tuition increases are avoided.

"The idea that state universities have had to increase tuition over the last several years is the wrong way to go," said Bullard, a teacher who sits on the Senate's Education Committee and Education Appropriations Subcommittee. "As a state, we should be more willing to kick in and find new means of revenue to fund the universities properly."

Dale Brill, president of the Florida Chamber Foundation, gave the House's Higher Education and Workforce Subcommittee a presentation on the recommendations from the governor's higher education task force, which he chaired. Brill shared statistics about the rising debt load among students, the job industries showing the highest growth and the trend in Florida of tax dollars being replaced by tuition to cover universities' costs.

After the meeting, Brill said the task force thinks the state should invest new dollars as long as the money comes with strings attached.

"In our funding recommendation in that first line it says fund them equivalent to your expectations on them," Brill said. "… Tie it to performance. Performance funding is the path to giving the Legislature, the governor and the citizens of Florida a sense that there is a deliberate return that everybody buys into that we're going to pursue."

Contact Tia Mitchell at tmitchell@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Against tuition debate, Florida universities plan funding announcement 12/04/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 9:41pm]
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