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Higher ed tuition shift would sort out lingerers

As part of a plan to accelerate graduation rates, state higher education officials on Thursday endorsed several radical changes to the way Florida university students pay for school.

The proposal would help the state's 11 public universities more quickly open up seats for new students. It also would rid the schools of procrastinating students who spend more than four years taking classes.

Under the plan, schools would charge out-of-state tuition to students who are not seeking degrees, and to those who are taking more classes than they need to graduate.

The schools also would charge "block tuition," which means all full-time students would be charged the same amount of tuition per semester, regardless of whether they took 15 credit hours or less.

The student and faculty representatives on the board spoke against the proposals, saying they would penalize students who want to change majors or take extra courses that don't apply to their major.

"This is going to freeze out so many people," said Howard Rock, a Florida International University professor who sits on the board. "It will have a very damaging effect on the state university system."

But Castell Bryant, a board member and South Florida college administrator, said she supports the plan because she sees students who stay in school for years and years, racking up hundreds of credit hours.

"I think we need to explore this," she said.

Each school also would provide students with a bill that clearly identifies the money paid by the state on the student's behalf, such as through Bright Futures scholarships.

The board is asking each of the 11 universities to discuss the proposals and report back at its March meeting.

The changes were proposed earlier this week by Gov. Jeb Bush. They would still need to be approved by the state Legislature this spring before they could be implemented next year.