TALLAHASSEE — All 11 state universities will have the power to raise tuition annually by as much as 15 percent under a bill awaiting Gov. Charlie Crist's signature. But Florida's two oldest state universities, with their vast and generous alumni bases, are better positioned than the rest to take full advantage of the new revenues — thanks in large part to a provision lawmakers added at their request.
The tuition bill (SB762) allows Florida's public universities to raise in-state undergraduate tuition by up to 15 percent a year. That includes the statewide base tuition and a so-called "differential tuition" on top. The bill mandates that 30 percent of the differential revenues go to need-based aid; the rest to academic improvements.
But at the urging of leaders from Florida State University and the University of Florida, lawmakers added a provision that allows colleges to use all revenues for academic enhancements as long as they can raise the required need-based aid through private donations.
"There's only two universities right now that have the ability to do that," said bill sponsor Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. "UF and FSU."
That means institutions such as the University of South Florida and Florida International — historically commuter schools, still trying to build their base of check-writing alumni — might not get as much out of the higher tuition bill that is meant to boost their academic programs.
"That may well be," conceded FIU vice president of governmental relations Stephen Sauls.
But like USF provost Ralph Wilcox, Sauls doesn't fault UF and FSU for seeking the provision in the bill.
UF president Bernie Machen "talked a lot about having flexibility," Sauls said. "I can understand that."
For USF, the 30 percent for need-based aid equates to as much as $2.6 million, according to estimates by the Board of Governors that oversees the state university system. For FIU, it's about $2 million, based on expected enrollment of in-state undergraduates who will be subject to the higher tuition.
"We're quite confident we'll be able to raise that money, or a portion of it," said USF's Wilcox, noting that the USF Foundation has already identified need-based scholarships as a priority. "If we can do this, we're going to be doing our students a worthy service."
UF last year launched a $50 million fundraising campaign to support scholarships for low-income students who are the first in their family to attend college.
Machen told the Faculty Senate last week that UF already has the private donations to meet the need-based aid requirement, ensuring that all revenue from the higher tuition will go toward improving undergraduate academic programs and faculty.
The Board of Governors estimates the increased tuition will bring UF as much as an additional $6.6-million in the budget year that begins July 1, though UF officials say the actual revenues will not be quite that high.
Patricia Telles-Irvin, UF's vice president of student affairs, said raising money isn't easy even for a flagship research institution like UF. She attributes the success to administrators making the need-based scholarships a priority.
Indeed, raising money privately for a narrow cause — like a new medical program or low-income scholarships — can prove more effective than simply asking without specifics, "Give us more money for the university."
Florida State University provost Larry Abele pointed to the University of Central Florida's success in gathering donations for its new medical school and for full scholarships for the first class of fledgling doctors.
Abele said he is "pretty confident" his research institution will be able to raise enough privately to cover the need-based aid. He estimates that will be $1.2 million, though the Board of Governors estimates it could be as much as $1.9 million, depending on enrollment.
Shannon Colavecchio can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263.