Universities examine options after tuition rebuffs

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, FL — As a panel appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to review higher education in Florida met for a third time Monday, state universities were plotting their next moves after last week’s unprecedented rejection of a series of proposed tuition increases.

For the most part, the schools seemed likely to go along after a number of them were partially rebuffed in their efforts to have “differential tuition” increases approved by the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the state’s system of 12 universities. Many of the schools saw their requests trimmed by the board after weeks of pressure by Scott to hold tuition down.

Florida State President Eric Barron, who said last week he would consider asking the university’s board to file an appeal, told reporters on Monday that he later decided against it.

“The Board of Governors had a hard enough job,” Barron said. “Why do I just want to continue to push?”

At least one other university, though, made a different calculation. Florida Gulf Coast University said it would appeal the Board of Governors decision to give it a 12 percent differential increase instead of a 14 percent hike. Universities have until Tuesday to request another hearing, which would go to a committee of the Board of Governors within 10 days.

It’s not clear how successful that effort might be. The appeals committee appears to be split down the middle, with three of the members having each voted against at least 65 percent of the tuition increase proposals during last week’s meeting and three members having each supported at least 70 percent of them.

But Barron still said politics played a role in the tuition decisions after Scott sternly warned board members last Tuesday to preserve the affordability of the state’s higher education system.

“How could it not have?” Barron said.

Of the eight board members who voted against at least 50 percent of the tuition increase proposals, four were appointed by Scott. In addition, Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson, the only board member to vote against every proposed increase, was not directly appointed by Scott but was the governor’s choice for the commissioner’s job, which includes a spot on the board.

Every board member voted against at least one proposal, though sometimes with the intention of pushing the proposed increases higher. But 67.5 percent of the votes cast by Scott’s appointees were against tuition increases, compared to 40 percent of the votes cast by board members originally named to their spots by former Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist.

In addition to Robinson, two other members of the board are not directly appointed: faculty representative Richard Yost and student representative Cortez Whatley. Both voted against four increases that were lower than what institutions had requested. Only Chairman Dean Colson, whose lone vote against a tuition in-crease reflected his frustration with Florida
A&M University, voted against fewer increase proposals.

Barron spoke Monday in front of Scott’s higher education task force, which the governor commissioned shortly after vetoing a measure that would have allowed the University of Florida and FSU to request virtually unlimited tuition increases in order to boost their research and academic profiles.

There seemed to be at least some support on the task force for tuition increases. One member of the panel floated the idea of allowing high-caliber departments to also ask for higher tuition rates, instead of the more limited measure rejected by Scott.

And Rep. Bill Proctor, a St. Augustine Republican who sponsored that measure and is on the task force, said during a break in the meeting that he wasn’t pleased with the Board of Governors vote.

“Obviously, I was a little disappointed in it because I still feel like that the format we put forth in the preeminence bill was a better format for arriving at tuition needs,” Proctor said. “ … But maybe they didn’t have time to work on a more metric-oriented approach, which I think ultimately we need to get to.”

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