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House plan raises tuition, tightens Bright Futures standards

TALLAHASSEE — State university tuition would go up and Bright Futures eligibility requirements would be tightened under a draft House higher education budget released Wednesday that has to offset the universities' loss of $150 million in federal stimulus money.

"This is a dose of reality," Rep. Marlene O'Toole, R-Lady Lake, told her colleagues.

Under the House's $5.7 billion spending plan:

• The Legislature would raise tuition 5 percent, leaving universities the option of raising it another 10 percent for a total 15 percent hike, the maximum allowed under state law. Last year, the Legislature increased base tuition 8 percent and universities went up another 7 percent.

• Students would have to meet higher standards to qualify for Bright Futures, the merit-based scholarships primarily funded by the lottery: an SAT score of 1300 instead of 1280 for the highest tier and 100 community service hours vs. the current 75. This would be on top of significant changes the Legislature made last year to Bright Futures, boosting penalties for students who don't maintain academic requirements and reducing the amount of time recipients have to graduate. Students also receive $1 less per credit hour.

• Homeschoolers would have to raise their SAT scores from 1070 to 1220 and do 75 hours of community service to qualify as Medallion Scholars, the second tier of Bright Futures.

• Residents who enroll in adult education courses would owe $90 annual tuition. Currently, they pay nothing.

O'Toole's plan cuts not only university funding, but also public colleges, private colleges, district workforce boards and vocational rehabilitation and blind services, all of which lost significant amounts of federal money.

Senators who oversee higher education spending indicated this week that they, too, would be open to raising student tuition to help offset budget cuts.

Florida tuition and fees went up 15.6 percent between fiscal year 2009 and 2010, the second-highest increase in the country. Even so, Florida students pay on average the third-lowest tuition and fees in the country, according to the state Board of Governors.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (850) 933-1321.

House plan raises tuition, tightens Bright Futures standards 03/16/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 8:07pm]
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