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Should Florida raise tuition at state universities? It’s being discussed.

The Board of Governors talks about ways to make ends meet in tough economic times. Florida’s tuition, state officials say, is comparatively low.

Members of the Florida Board of Governors on Wednesday raised the possibility of a tuition increase for state university students, citing a decrease in state revenues because of the coronavirus.

“What’s important to understand is that the state of Florida, like our nation for that matter, is feeling a fair amount of stress with regards to the economy,” said Brian Lamb, who serves as the board’s vice chair and chairman of its budget committee. “There’s a reasonable expectation — a real expectation — that revenues will be down.”

Each state university has been asked to plan for an 8.5 percent budget cut during this fiscal year and a 10 percent cut next year. Proposals so far call for streamlining programs and services and the possibility of personnel cuts, among other steps.

Talk of a tuition hike comes as many students complain that they already are not getting enough value for their money because of steps taken to limit the coronavirus’ spread. Many classes are held online, students services have been curtailed and campus activities have been sharply reduced. Some students have filed lawsuits seeking refunds.

But state officials pointed to numbers indicating that tuition at Florida’s state universities is comparatively low.

One slide in a presentation to the Board of Governors' budget committee showed that Florida’s average tuition of $6,352 is the second-lowest in the nation, above only Wyoming.

The national average is $10,487, according to the presentation.

“Just for conversation’s sake, for Florida to get to the national average, it would take a 65 percent increase in tuition,” Tim Jones, vice chancellor for finance and administration, told the committee. “At one point several years ago, we were trying to get to the national average but no longer are we doing that.”

Florida’s last tuition increase came in 2013, when it rose about 1.7 percent before remaining relatively flat since then, Jones said. It would take a 13 or 14 percent increase for the state to reach the level of North Carolina, which has fifth-lowest tuition in the country, he said.

Board member Eric Silagy said he wondered at what point a tuition hike might be something to consider.

“I look at this and I think we’re all very proud of the fact that Florida’s got one of the lowest tuitions in the entire country and I think that’s fantastic,” he said. “What it really comes down to is we’re not reducing expenses, we’re basically keeping revenue from tuition flat ... and basically looking at state tax dollars to make up the difference."

Silagy said it was “amazing” how many “efficiencies” corporations were able to identify as they cut costs during the Great Recession.

But board member Norman Tripp warned about shifting the cost burden to students.

“A number of years ago … we had a situation where the Legislature decided that if we wanted to increase our income, we could do it by raising tuition," Tripp said. “And every year, they lowered basically the state support, and we tried to make it up on the backs of students by raising tuition.”

He added: "It’s taken us a long time to reverse that, and I think we have to be very, very careful we don’t go back to that type of scenario.”

Board members discussed the importance of being careful when streamlining budgets. Certain cuts, they said, could impact student success. A 1 percent tuition increase would result in about $7 million generated for the State University System, while a 1 percent cut to general revenue results in a $30 million loss, they said.

“It’s the right conversation to have,” Lamb said. “It’s just prudent to look at all the levers we have to pull to ultimately invest in the No. 1 state university system in the country.”

Board members made no decision on tuition Wednesday, and it was unclear when the issue might surface again. Separately, the board has until Oct. 15 to submit its budget request to the Legislature.

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