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PolitiFact Florida | Tampa Bay Times
Sorting out the truth in state politics

PolitiFact Florida: Which costs students more, tuition or cellphones?

Let's talk tuition.

College tuition increases are a no-go with Gov. Rick Scott, who wants to keep the cost of living low for families. House Speaker Will Weatherford, on the other hand, thinks Florida students are getting a great deal and can afford to pay a little more.

Weatherford explained his views at a March meeting of the Florida Board of Governors. The board's student member asked why the House wants a 6 percent tuition increase for universities. "Let me put in perspective something for you that no one's talking about that should be talked about in this debate," he said. "The average student in Florida, what they actually pay out of pocket at our major universities, I believe all universities, is about the same amount of money as they spend on this."

He held up his iPhone.

"We're more than willing to negotiate with our friends in the Senate and the governor, but we think to just take tuition off the table and ignore the fact that we're ranked so low, and ignore the fact that our students are spending more on cellphones to some extent than they are on tuition, is not right," he said.

Students spend as much on tuition as their cellphone?

Tuition in Florida

Florida's average price for undergraduate tuition and fees at a public university is $6,069 in 2012-13, according to the Board of Governors. That's up from an average of $5,531 in 2011-12.

Tuition used to be even lower but public universities have been bumping up tuition to offset steep budget cuts. As a result, the price for tuition at a four-year public university jumped 67 percent over the past five years.

Still, most in-state students don't pay full price. Many receive scholarships, grants and other financial aid. Once you factor in "gift aid" such as Bright Futures and Pell grants, a student's out-of-pocket expenses for tuition and fees comes down.

Weatherford's spokesman and the Board of Governors sent us system-wide averages for gift aid versus what students actually paid in tuition and fees for 2011-12. This is for an in-state undergraduate student taking 15 credit hours of courses each fall and spring semester.

Income Avg. tuition Gift aid
Below $40,000 -$2,888 $7,906
$40,000-$59,999 -$157 $5,214
$60,000-$79,999 $1,503 $3,596
$80,000-$99,999 $1,942 $3,166
$100,000 above $1,970 $3,163
Total $403 $4,646

So the average financial gift amount per full-time, in-state undergraduate student for the school year is $4,646. The average amount of what a student actually paid out-of-pocket for tuition and fees is about $400.

The out-of-pocket expense varies widely by family income. Students whose families earn below $60,000 — and compose about 44 percent of the university system — don't pay out-of-pocket for tuition on average because they receive more gift aid based on need.

The amount a student shells out for tuition and fees also varies at each state university. The average student at Florida A&M, for example, does not pay out-of-pocket for tuition and fees. But a student at the University of Central Florida pays an average of $1,600. At the University of Florida, the average is $248.

Keep in mind this analysis excludes other types of financial aid, such as loans, that students must pay back, as well as payments to Florida Prepaid. It's worth noting the average student faces thousands more in expenses — books, transportation, room and board. At the University of South Florida in Tampa, the average 2012-13 cost of attendance for a full-time, in-state student not living with parents was $20,390.

Weatherford was careful to specify tuition.

Price of cellphones

Weatherford spokesman Ryan Duffy directed us to a September 2012 Wall Street Journal story. It cites federal labor data showing annual household spending on phone services (not just cellphones) was $1,226 in 2011, up from $1,110 in 2007.

An estimate from J.D. Power and Associates puts it even higher for this year, with the average wireless bill reported by consumers to be $111 as of March 2013 (or $1,332 for the year).

Those annual bill totals are more than the system-wide average for out-of-pocket costs for tuition and fees (again, about $400). If you isolate students who pay out of pocket, the total tuition bill actually exceeds a year's worth of cellphone bills, but not dramatically so.

Our ruling

Weatherford's point is accurate if you compare the average out-of-pocket cost for all schools against the average cellphone bill, but there are caveats.

Remember, he's just talking about tuition. And for the cash-paying families that compose a majority of the system, the comparison is a little off, with students paying more for tuition than the average cellphone.

Weatherford's claim is accurate but needs clarification. We rate it Mostly True.

Read more rulings at PolitiFact.com/Florida.

The statement

"The average student in Florida, what they actually pay out of pocket at our major universities" for tuition is as much or less than what they spend on cellphones.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, March 28 in a Board of Governors meeting

The ruling

Politifact ruling: Mostly True
His point is accurate if you compare the average out-of-pocket cost for all schools against the average cellphone bill. But for the out-of-pocket-paying students, the total tuition bill actually exceeds a year's worth of cellphone bills. We rate the claim Mostly True.

PolitiFact Florida: Which costs students more, tuition or cellphones? 04/07/13 [Last modified: Sunday, April 7, 2013 9:11pm]
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