TAMPA — It's a delicate balance.
That was the message the University of South Florida provost gave to student senators last week, explaining why students are having to shoulder more and more of the cost of education.
As tuition climbs and new student fees are added year after year — including one USF trustees will vote on today — school officials say they want to make sure they balance affordability with quality and access.
It's not exactly an easy sell.
"There are those who say, 'You have a heck of a deal in the state of Florida at the moment,' and that's probably the case," provost Ralph Wilcox said. "But that's a different story to tell a student who perhaps has one or both parents on the unemployment line today."
The fact is, if students want an education, they've got to pay a bigger chunk than ever before. As state support continues to spiral down, the university system must deal with higher tuition and more fees.
"I think it is a harsh reality we have to deal with," said USF student senate president Khalid Hassouneh.
The proposed USF fee up for a vote today — a new "academic enrichment and opportunity fee" to support internships, co-ops and student research — is planned as cost-neutral for at the first year, thanks to a compromise pushed by student leaders. But that doesn't mean students won't be paying more on the whole.
USF will freeze automatic increases of two other fees, and for the new fee charge whatever those hikes would have cost. So students will wind up paying the same thing they would have paid had the regular fee increases happened.
That's on top of a likely tuition hike, capped at 15 percent.
Of course, fees are not exactly new. Just look to the existing ones at USF, per credit hour:
The Legislature calls for $5 for financial aid and $5 for technology. Then students pay about $14 per credit hour, plus a $10 a flat fee per semester, for athletics — the third highest in Florida, and more than the $11 students pay for general activities and student services. There's also 10 bucks for health services, $1.50 to maintain the Marshall student center, and a new green energy fee of $1. Multiply those by 15 or so credit hours per semester, and it really adds up.
Any new fee, on top of tuition increases, is sure to make students nervous. Indeed, a student survey taken before the cost-neutral compromise on the new fee revealed that 66 percent of students would be opposed to a new fee that had new costs.
Hassouneh said he thinks students will embrace this new fee, as it technically won't cost extra money. But he said he understands their hesitation.
He has heard of students having to cut back from full-time to part-time status to maintain outside jobs. Some have taken two or more jobs just to get by.
"It's disappointing because it's not necessarily what we signed up for," Hassouneh said. "That's not what we expected going into it.
"At the same time, when you look at it from the university's point of view, when you want to maintain quality, there are few other options."
USF is not alone.
Last week, while students protested outside, the University of Florida's trustees approved a new "undergraduate enhancement fee" costing 5 percent of tuition.
A few months ago the University of Central Florida increased parking, athletic, health and transportation fees by a few dollars each.
The University of North Florida now charges a new student life and services fee, 5 percent of tuition.
"There is a cost to access and quality," Wilcox, USF's provost, said. "And the quite fundamental question is, 'Who covers that?' "
Kim Wilmath can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3337.