As household incomes dwindle and job growth remains stagnant more Americans turn to higher education with the hope of increasing their slice of the American Dream, but in Florida the cost of that education is rising.
For the fifth consecutive year the Florida Board of Governors voted in June to increase differential tuition at the state's 11 public universities by as much as 15 percent and as low as 9 percent beginning this fall. Unlike base tuition increases, which the state legislature did not pass this year, the BOG requires that schools use 30 percent of those new funds to bolster financial aid and 70 percent for educational expenses such as adding new courses. According to Gov. Rick Scott, who urged the BOG to keep tuition low, rates have increased 71 percent over the past four years.
The University of South Florida's students will see their tuition increase by 11 percent. In a message issued by USF News, USF President Judy Genshaft said the increases will cost a full-time undergraduate student $6,335 for the 2012-2013 school year; $529 more than last year. Still, higher education in Florida is among the cheapest in the nation. The national median tuition rate at public universities is $8,990.
Despite the BOG's actions, public universities are still suffering massive budget cuts passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Scott in April. Statewide, public universities will lose $300 million in funding. USF will lose $50 million this year, while the differential tuition increases will bring in only $10.3 million. Over the past five years the university has lost $125 million in state funds. This budget shortfall could lead to larger classes, fewer courses and less qualified professors.
Gov. Scott approved these budget cuts assuming that the BOG would be forced to approve the maximum 15 percent tuition increases, while at the same time claiming not to believe in tuition hikes. This brilliant political move allows Gov. Scott to save face while painting the BOG and university presidents as the bad guys.
With higher tuition and less financial aid from sources such as Bright Futures, students often turn to federal student loans, which the U.S. Congress voted to keep at the low rate of 3.4 percent instead of allowing the rate to return to 6.8 percent in June. The federal government would have gained $6 billion in revenue this year, so changes have been made to Pell Grants and Stafford Loans. The six-month grace period after graduation will no longer apply for loans issued in 2012-2013, students will be responsible for interest immediately following graduation. Those wishing to continue their education at the graduate level will no longer be able to take out subsidized loans and will be responsible for interest while still in school. The maximum family income for Pell Grants will be set as $23,000 instead of $32,000 and those grants will be available for only 12 semesters instead of 18.
As tuition rises the financial assistance needed to cover those expenses becomes more and more fleeting, all while budget cuts threaten the quality of a Florida public university education. All these changes are occurring at a time when a college education may be more valuable than ever.