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House higher education plan includes tuition increases, budget cuts

TALLAHASSEE — Florida college students can start bracing for higher tuition bills again come fall.

Leaders in the House proposed raising tuition by 8 percent next year at public colleges and universities as part of a budget unveiled Tuesday.

Most universities also expect to seek an additional "differential" tuition of up to 7 percent, said Frank Brogan, chancellor of the state university system.

The House proposal cuts the state's contributions to higher education by more than 6 percent, suggesting another year of budget cuts at the same time tuition rises. Universities increased tuition 15 percent in 2011.

"It's really disappointing. ... It's not surprising though," said Michael Long, a New College sophomore who is the student member of the Board of Governors overseeing universities.

The Republican-controlled Legislature previously gave its universities the power for annual increases of up to 15 percent until tuition reaches the national average. That raised tuition by $600 for a full-time student at the University of South Florida this year, bringing the cost with fees to more than $5,000.

"The alternative, without the additional student support, is grim," said Brogan, noting the risk of less faculty and programs. "It's almost become a necessary evil when you see a continued decline in base funding from the state."

The Senate has yet to release a higher education spending plan. Individual members are resisting talk of additional budget cuts.

"I think it's absolutely not the time to be cutting any education funding, whether its K-12 or higher education," said Sen. Evelyn Lynn, chair of Senate higher education spending panel.

The House measure tightens requirements for Bright Futures scholarships, which are paid from lottery revenue, as part of an 11 percent cut to state financial aid programs. The proposal also shortens the window most students have to start using Bright Futures aid, from three years after high school graduation to two.

And renewal of those scholarships will require better grades, too.

The spending plan includes no additional funding for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs. House members heard from university presidents this month on ideas but legislators have yet to prioritize the idea, which has been a priority for Gov. Rick Scott.

"There's nothing in this budget for STEM," said Rep. Marlene O'Toole, R-Lady Lake, who chairs the House higher education budget committee.

Students plan a rally Thursday for more smaller tuition increases to keep college affordable, among other issues. Long, the New College sophomore, said students realize the need to adequately fund universities, but state leaders need to keep costs affordable or risk losing students to schools out of state.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter @DeCampTimes.

House higher education plan includes tuition increases, budget cuts 01/24/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 4:29pm]
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