1. The Education Gradebook

Top universities could soon have more power over tuition

The University of Florida and Florida State University could soon have the power to set higher tuition rates than the state's other nine universities -- a flexibility they've been asked state leaders for repeatedly.

Under a proposal that sailed through a Senate committee last week and heads to the House tomorrow, top-tier research universities that meet certain criteria would be allowed to charge what lawmakers are calling "market-rate" tuition. Those benchmarks include having a certain number of incoming students with GPAs close to 4.0s, having a certain amount of research activity and being a member of the Association of American Universities -- an elite club of which UF is the only Florida member.

As such, UF is also the only Florida school that would be eligible for this new tuition freedom. UF President Bernie Machen said he had not decided whether to start charging more money, provided that the proposal is approved. FSU is a few steps away: it's not part of the AAU, needs to increase its number of patents and does not have a university hospital, as its medical program focuses on out-patient doctors, said FSU President Eric Barron.

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 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."

This kind of tuition setting is commonplace in other states, Oelrich said, like Pennsylvania, Michigan and California. But in Florida, all universities are treated the same. That's not fair for schools like UF and FSU, which Oelrich said need more money if they're going to be on par with other world-class research institutions.

"Our universities are not all the same, nor should we want them to be," the senator said. "Different universities serve different purposes."