TALLAHASSEE — The University of Florida and Florida State University could soon have the power to set higher tuition rates than the state's other 11 universities — a flexibility they have been seeking for years.
Under a proposal that sailed through a Senate committee last week and heads to the House Tuesday, top-tier research universities that meet 11 out of 14 benchmarks would be allowed to charge what lawmakers are calling "market-rate" tuition.
The critera include having an average GPA of 3.8 among incoming freshmen, having more than 100 patents, having six or more faculty members in a national academy and being a member of the Association of American Universities — an elite club of which UF is the only Florida member.
UF is also the only Florida school that meets all 14. UF president Bernie Machen said he had not decided whether to start charging more money, provided that the proposal is approved.
Meeting 12 of the benchmarks, Florida State University would also be eligible for tuition-setting freedom. The metrics it's missing: its number of patents and a university hospital, said FSU president Eric Barron.
Other universities would have even larger hurdles.
If the bill passes in tomorrow's House education committee, it will still need to be voted on by both full chambers and signed off by Gov. Rick Scott. The Florida Board of Governors would have to approve it, too, said Sen. Steve Oelrich, chair of the senate's higher education committee. Scott has said he does not support tuition increases at all.
Oelrich, R-Alachua, said he doesn't understand Scott's reluctance. This plan, Oelrich said would let the market place dictate prices. For a governor who's all about making government more like a business, "I'd assume he would not oppose it."
Tuition-setting power should be a competitive, merit-based process, Oelrich said. UF and FSU need more money, he said, if they're going to be on par with other world-class research institutions.
Those select schools attract the "elite," he said, and they offer a different experience. "Our universities are not all the same, nor should we want them to be," Oelrich said. "Different universities serve different purposes."
Students already have seen tuition increases the past six years — through base tuition increases approved by the Legislature and through a program known as "tuition differential," which allows universities to add to the base amount increased so long as the total does not exceed 15 percent per year.
The original idea behind tuition differential sounded a lot like this new proposal: to differentiate certain universities that state leaders thought deserved to charge more. But over the past few years, that privilege has been extended to all 11 state universities.
This year, the House has recommended an 8 percent base tuition hike, leaving it up to the universities to ask for up to 7 percent more from the Board of Governors. The Senate did not recommend a base tuition increase for universities, leaving it up to them to ask for the full 15 percent hike.
Despite the increases, Florida tuition remains lower than all but a handful of other states.
Correction: FSU is eligible for tuition-setting freedom for meeting 12 benchmarks. An earlier version of this was incorrect.