Gov. Rick Scott is asking lawmakers to eliminate the state’s tuition differential law, which allows universities to request as much as a 15 percent tuition increase each year.
Scott has fought higher education tuition hikes since he took office in 2011.
“We are changing how we fund higher education,” Scott said, according to the prepared version of his State of the State speech, “but if we want to make higher education more accessible to low and middle-income families we have to make it more affordable.
“We will hold the line on tuition,” he added moments later.
Lawmakers are talking about reducing the hikes to a maximum of 6 percent each year.
But what is tuition differential?
Lawmakers approved the program for five universities in 2007, and expanded it to all State University System schools in 2009. Florida’s law is similar to one in Texas. The goal was to help schools maintain academic programs if lawmakers declined to raise tuition.
The 12 Florida State University System schools can request up to an additional 15 percent tuition increase — as long as the school’s tuition is less than the national average for public four-year schools — $8,893, according to the most recent College Board survey.
Schools must write up plans for how they plan to spend the money, including hiring professors and advisers, maintaining the number of courses offered or paying for specific academic programs.
In addition, schools must set aside at least 30 percent of the additional money for need-based financial aid.
Here’s what tuition differential means for students.
Eleven universities took advantage of the law in the 2013-2014 school year, charging between $35.14 additional per credit hour at University of South Florida campuses in St. Petersburg and Sarasota and Manatee counties and $52.29 additional per credit hour at Florida International University. The tuition differential raised a $239.9 million.
A student taking the recommended 15 credit hours at the University of South Florida’s main campus will pay an additional $703.20 per semester during the 2013-2014 school year.
Tuition differential contributed $72 million in need-based financial aid. The amount of financial aid varied by school, with awards between $11 and $13,994.
In the 2012-2013 school year, Florida A & M University gave financial aid to 783 students, with an average award of $2,250. At the University of Florida, 1,372 students received an average award of $4,177. The University of South Florida had an average award of $1,324.
While Florida university tuition is less than the national average, just Arizona, California, Georgia and Washington had a larger percentage increase for tuition at four-year public universities the past five years than Florida, according to College Board data.
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