Monday, December 18, 2017
Education

With tuition rising and job prospects dimming, college students feel the pinch

Tuition increases taste like ramen noodles.

They sound like an alarm clock going off hours before class, leaving enough time for an extra shift at a minimum-wage job. They feel like delayed grad school. Like yet another loan.

"Our costs are going up, but everything that could help us is either going away or dwindling," said University of South Florida senior Aaron Campbell.

Far away from the board room where higher education leaders decided last week that — for the fifth year in a row — state budget cuts make tuition hikes a necessary evil, students are having a hard time with their end of the bargain.

From ground-level, it's tough to see the university layoffs avoided and courses saved when the sticker price keeps going up. It doesn't seem fair when news headlines show a sagging job market waiting on the other side.

Even while Congress voted Friday to freeze the interest rate of federally subsidized student loans for a year, students aren't celebrating. Consistent tuition increases mean those loans cover less each year.

This is the reality of higher education in Florida and elsewhere: Students are paying more and more, and they can't tell what they're getting for it.

Take Campbell, for instance.

With graduation on the horizon, the 22-year-old music education major is suddenly paying close attention to the value of his degree. What he sees makes him nervous.

Jobs are harder to find than ever. And he'll definitely need one — not only to pay for rent and food and the rest of it, but to pay off his student loans.

"They kind of have us by the short hairs," Campbell said.

• • •

Florida's higher education leaders are left with little choice.

The governor wants the state to lead the nation in affordability, yet he signed a budget that includes a cut to universities with eight zeros in it.

With Gov. Rick Scott's feelings in mind, the board charged with overseeing the state university system last week did not approve 15 percent tuition increases for every school, as allowed by law and as it has for the past few years. Instead, the Florida Board of Governors divvied up hikes to the state's 11 universities that ranged from 9 percent at the University of Florida to the maximum 15 percent at just a handful — a move Scott still deemed "disappointing."

But the hikes still don't come close to making up the decline in state support over the last five years, a drop of almost half with tuition making up only about 20 percent of the difference.

"I think it's easier to make a decision on tuition when you're adding value to a university, in a flat budget year," board chairman Dean Colson said after the vote last week. "When tuition increases instead are affecting how much money you're not losing, it's a different dynamic."

So, really, nobody's satisfied.

The frustration was evident Friday, when board members heard one university argue for a higher tuition increase than it was granted last week.

Quality costs money, said Florida Gulf Coast University board of trustees chairwoman Robbie Roepstorff, who appealed for a 14 percent increase instead of the 12 percent the school was allowed. Without extra money, course sections could shrink and class sizes could grow.

"Our students," she said, "absolutely deserve no less."

The appeal was denied.

• • •

On the federal front, students were bracing for another serious blow — as Congress went down to the wire Friday before deciding to stop some student loan interest rates from doubling.

If lawmakers hadn't agreed at the last minute to pay for a $6 billion rate freeze, loan payments would have increased for 7 million students across the country, 450,000 in Florida, by an average of $1,000.

Not exactly pocket change.

"It's easy for people to say it's just another $1,000," said 21-year-old Jessica Winder. But for the USF psychology senior planning on earning her doctorate, the costs of student loan debt is already "astronomical."

"You have to keep tightening up the change purse," she said. "But how much tighter can you tighten it? The college student lifestyle is eating ramen noodles every night."

Kim Wilmath can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3337. Alli Langley can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Top USF Health official leaves amid questions of assistant’s special treatment

Top USF Health official leaves amid questions of assistant’s special treatment

TAMPA — A high-ranking University of South Florida Health official has resigned amid internal concerns that he was giving special treatment to his assistant.After an internal investigation, USF System President Judy Genshaft was poised last month to ...
Published: 12/15/17
Hillsborough school district and its teachers are at a bargaining impasse, but still talking

Hillsborough school district and its teachers are at a bargaining impasse, but still talking

TAMPA — A months-long conflict over planned pay raises has moved to a new phase with the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association declaring a bargaining impasse with the public school district.The two sides, which began negotiations in late spring...
Published: 12/15/17
Pinellas schools sheltered thousands during Irma. Here’s what it cost

Pinellas schools sheltered thousands during Irma. Here’s what it cost

Three months later, the Pinellas County school district has totaled up the costs of operating 16 schools as shelters for 25,000 evacuees during Hurricane Irma.The district is asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, for a reimbursemen...
Published: 12/15/17
Love of science is the goal, now that every Pinellas elementary school has a lab

Love of science is the goal, now that every Pinellas elementary school has a lab

SEMINOLE — It was hard for the second-graders at Orange Grove Elementary to resist the urge to rush into the school’s science lab and tinker with the colorful objects neatly arranged on each table.Thursday was just their second time in the lab this y...
Published: 12/15/17
Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups

Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups

Rising up in defiance to Richard Spencer, hundreds of University of Florida students sounded off in a deafening chant."Go home, Spencer!" they shouted, as the exasperated white nationalist paced the stage, pleading to be heard.Were the students exerc...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17
Hernando could be next stop for PACE Center for Girls

Hernando could be next stop for PACE Center for Girls

BROOKSVILLE — The new year could bring about new beginnings for at-risk girls in Hernando County.Pending a vote by the School Board next month, PACE Center for Girls, an alternative education program for middle- and high-school students, could open a...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17

Pasco school district, employees reach contract agreement

The raises for Pasco County school district employees aren’t as high as anyone would like, but they’re now part of a signed tentative contract deal reached just before 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.If ratified by the staff and the School Board, the agreements ...
Published: 12/13/17
For Bexley students in Land O’Lakes, math skills go airborne

For Bexley students in Land O’Lakes, math skills go airborne

LAND O’LAKES — At Bexley Elementary School in Land O’Lakes, students are throwing paper airplanes — with the help of a high tech computerized launcher. They’re also bowling — with a little aid from computerized drones. And when they get around to it,...
Published: 12/13/17

Proposal to rollback early learning programs could bring Citrus into Pasco-Hernando coalition

Some Florida lawmakers have not hidden their desire to scale back the statewide number of early learning coalitions that oversee child care and preschool programs, including Voluntary Prekindergarten.The state Office of Early Learning has now issued ...
Published: 12/13/17
Brink Foundation, school district create Town ’N Country STEM hub

Brink Foundation, school district create Town ’N Country STEM hub

TAMPA — Elementary school students programmed an electronic mouse to make its way through a maze.Middle school students directed an electronic vehicle to stop on a dime, then use its arms to locate and lift a tiny cube.When the demonstration was done...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/14/17