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Five questions for USF provost on tuition

TAMPA — Parents, start saving your pennies.

Universities will deliver tuition bills in just a few months and once again they'll be higher than ever, as state dollars pay for less.

Tuition hikes this fall will range from 9 percent at the University of Florida to the maximum 15 percent at a handful of schools.

An 11 percent tuition differential increase was approved for the University of South Florida's three campuses. That leaves USF Tampa with the third-highest tuition differential in the state — $46.88 per credit hour — behind Florida International University and Florida State University. USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee, on the other hand, will have the lowest tuition differential in the state, $35.14 per credit hour each.

In honor of the five years tuition has gone up in Florida's public university system, we came up with five questions to understand the story behind the numbers.

In the hot-seat? Ralph Wilcox.

As USF's provost he has become an expert on the state's tuition trend warning that Florida's universities are nearing a "tipping point" in terms of rising cost and falling quality.

Even so, he said, "Florida's higher education is still a heck of a deal."

Do tell …

Students are paying more for higher education so what are they getting for it?

USF students are receiving a first-class education that will provide them the knowledge and skills to compete successfully in the global marketplace of the 21st century. They will earn a degree from a Top 50 research university that is recognized nationally and internationally as a fast-growing, fast-paced innovative leader, committed to their success.

What will USF's 11 percent tuition increase pay for?

In addition to expanding the number and amount of need-based scholarships for students, the tuition increase will support investments in more academic advisers, financial planners, and career placement counselors with an emphasis on academic goal-setting, improving graduation rates, reducing excess hours and student debt, expanding USF's nationally-recognized Veterans' Success program for returning service men and women, and assuring job placement upon graduation.

Further investments are focused on expanding access through online learning, producing more graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and working in partnership with business and industry to grow a high-skilled workforce for Florida's future.

Forty percent of the new tuition hike will be for financial aid. What about students in the middle, who aren't poor enough to qualify for needs-based aid but can't afford tuition without help?

USF manages multiple sources of funds to assist students in covering expenses, not all of which require a student to demonstrate need. The additional financial aid resulting from the tuition increase will be awarded to students with varying levels of financial need (including some who are "in the middle") to help minimize the challenges.

At the same time, we encourage all students to develop and adhere to an academic plan to graduate in four years. Each additional year costs students about $20,000 in expenses and means that they forego the opportunity to earn a salary.

Do you have advice for students deciding whether to stay in state or go out of state if they get more financial aid?

Students should seek the best fit for their academic and career goals recognizing that the "sticker price" for an out-of-state education can be as much as 10 times higher than that of public universities in Florida.

More financial aid does not always translate to lower cost. We recommend families perform the following calculation to help evaluate their aid packages: Calculate the estimated tuition, fees, books, and room and board costs. Add up the amount of "free" money, scholarships and grants offered by the school and subtract that from the total costs. The resulting figure gives a family their out of pocket costs — a better tool for comparing aid offers.

Why is a college education in Florida worth it?

In addition to the personal growth and enrichment that comes with a college education, it is estimated that, by 2018, nearly two-thirds of the nation's jobs will require some form of postsecondary education. While workers with a high school diploma can expect to earn approximately $1.3 million in their lifetime, a bachelor's degree promises, on average, $2.3 million in lifetime earnings, and a graduate degree considerably more.

Kim Wilmath can be reached at kwilmath@tampabay.com or 813-226-3337.

Five questions for USF provost on tuition 07/09/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 11, 2012 10:22am]
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