Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill in April that allows certain state universities to be designated as “preeminent” institutions, but he doesn’t want them to charge higher tuition than universities that haven’t earned that status. What, then, is the point of making the distinction?
In fact, Florida’s public universities are not created equal. A degree from Florida Gulf Coast does not mean the same as one from the University of Florida, which U.S. News ranks 17th among American universities. Yet tuition and fees at FGCU are only $82 less than at UF — $6,068 vs. $6,150.
The Florida Board of Governors last week designated UF and Florida State University as preeminent. The designation is based on standards that include student performance, retention rates, research spending, national rankings and endowment. Preeminent status also requires UF to begin offering online bachelor’s degrees by next year, with the idea of allowing more students to obtain a UF degree at a lower cost.
UF and FSU are getting an additional $15 million as a reward for achieving the designation. UF will use the money to try to reach the Top 10.
The schools also have indicated that they will go ahead with an automatic 1.7 percent increase in tuition that takes effect July 1, angering Gov. Scott. He vetoed a preeminence bill last year because it would have allowed universities to raise their differential tuition beyond the 15 percent cap. Gov. Scott vetoed a 3 percent tuition increase the Legislature approved this spring, and wants universities to offset the automatic increase by cutting elsewhere.
“We must continue to provide Florida students with value in their education system,” said Gov. Scott, “and I do not agree with any tuition increase on Florida families.”
It’s hardly a burden for students who attend the preeminent universities, though, to pay more for the privilege. In fact, tuition is less a worry for Florida students, who pay far more for room, board and transportation. University students whose families earn more than $100,000 — 28 percent — pay an average of $1,970 out of pocket for tuition and fees. Those whose families earn less than $40,000 a year — 34 percent of students — had an out of pocket gain of $2,888, thanks to financial aid.
UF and FSU attract many of the state’s brightest students, most of whom receive Bright Futures and other scholarships, and many of whom come from affluent families. The average student at UF pays $248 out of pocket for tuition and fees. If Florida’s statewide, preeminent research universities are going to be distinct from regional universities, that distinction should be reflected in the ticket price.
for The Post Editorial Board