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Senate recommends no base tuition hike for Florida universities, 3 percent increase for colleges

TALLAHASSEE — With Gov. Rick Scott calling for no tuition increases at colleges and universities this year and the Florida House recommending an 8 percent hike, the Florida Senate is meeting them in the middle.

In a Senate higher education budget proposal released Tuesday, state colleges and workforce education programs would see a 3 percent base tuition increase. But state universities would see no change to their base tuition, leaving it up to them to raise prices through differential tuition.

The feeling is that tuition certainly needs to go up, said committee chairwoman Sen. Evelyn Lynn. "But being cognizant of the governor's desires as well, this is a starting point."

Under a program known as tuition differential, universities are able to add to the tuition increase in the final budget, as long as the total increase does not exceed 15 percent per year. Last year the Legislature approved an 8 percent hike, and universities followed suit with another 7 percent.

They can keep upping prices until they reach the national average for tuition, currently $8,244. Florida now ranks 45th in the nation with an average price of $5,626, according to the Florida Board of Governors.

The Senate committee also recommended cutting about 25 percent in funding for Florida's higher education programs almost across the board. For the State University System, that translates to a $400 million cut in nonrecurring funds. Lynn said she expects that money to be restored next year.

The Florida College System would see a slight increase in state funds, about 1.1 percent. Factoring in the 3 percent base tuition increase, that's a 2 percent revenue increase, Lynn said.

The recommendations of the Senate and the House will be considered by both chambers' budget committees before a final budget is hammered out. Gov. Scott will then have to sign it.

Even with prices as low as they are, Florida's students are shouldering a larger chunk of their higher education costs than ever. Traditionally, tuition paid for about 25 percent of a student's education, with state dollars making up for the rest.

With tuition going up and state support going down, that model has now shifted to about 50-50.

Kim Wilmath can be reached at kwilmath@tampabay.com.

Senate recommends no base tuition hike for Florida universities, 3 percent increase for colleges 02/07/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 9:28pm]
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