TALLAHASSEE — Two university presidents seeking flexibility to raise tuition made big promises to Gov. Rick Scott as they lobbied him Thursday to sign a bill giving them that power.
In response, a still undecided Scott fired off questions about how the extra money would help universities deliver on their pledges to fuel the economy and prepare more high-skilled graduates for the workforce.
The public meeting with Scott comes a week before Scott has to act on the measure, HB 7129.
The bill, known as the pre-eminence bill, would require that universities meet 11 of 14 benchmarks — like high research activity and high GPAs among incoming freshmen — before they're able to raise tuition to the "market-rate." Right now only the University of Florida and Florida State University meet that threshold.
Presidents of both universities applauded the bill for that extra accountability. In addition to meeting the benchmarks, they'd also have to spell out how the extra dollars are spent and gain approval from their individual boards of trustees and the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system.
"It doesn't make sense to charge the same price no matter what you deliver," said FSU president Eric Barron.
Scott said he understands the need for improved education, but he's also hearing from students and parents who are concerned about not being able to afford college.
"If we are going to spend more money in an area, if we are going to expect our students and our families to spend more money, what are we going to get for it?" he told reporters after the meeting. "That's what's going to be important for families."
UF president Bernie Machen has said he would aim for the national average starting with 2013's incoming freshmen. Machen would keep that tuition rate flat for those students for four years, adding an extra incentive for them to graduate on time. He said he wants to use the money to hire more faculty.
Barron hasn't said how much he hopes to increase tuition, but he said the extra money would go to programs to train entrepreneurs and meet the state's push for graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.