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State adds up costs for university degrees


The average “net” cost for students earning baccalaureate degrees at Florida universities last year was $14,820, according to a new measurement that will be used to evaluate the schools this summer.

The net cost represents tuition, fees and textbook expenses offset by scholarships and grants. In the 2015-16 academic year, the costs for earning a degree with 120 credit hours of classes ranged from $5,920 at New College of Florida to $18,790 at Florida Gulf Coast University, according to the university system’s Board of Governors.

The average system-wide cost has declined 2 percent since the 2013-14 academic year, when it was $15,110.

The board agreed to switch from a “cost to the institution” measurement for awarding bachelor’s degrees to a “cost to the student” in November. The new student-cost metric was included in the board’s annual system-wide accountability report, which was approved on March 30.

It will be used in the Board of Governors’ annual performance-funding evaluations this summer. During that process, all 12 universities will be evaluated on the student-cost-for-a-degree metric as part of more than a dozen measurements used to rank the universities. The rankings are important because the three lowest-performing schools will not be eligible in 2017-18 for state performance funding, which amounted to $225 million this year.

The new measurement is in line with Gov. Rick Scott’s call for more “accountability and transparency” in higher-education costs. As well as supporting the expansion of Bright Futures scholarships to the summer semester, Scott has asked universities and state colleges this year to hold the line on tuition and fee increases in the coming year. Neither the House nor Senate budget bills include a tuition hike.

Scott has also backed efforts to reduce the cost of textbooks for students. The new metric includes the textbook costs along with tuition and fees for the “sticker price” of baccalaureate degrees. It does not, however, include costs such as student housing and transportation.

In the formula, the “sticker price” of the degree is offset by grants and scholarships the students receive but do not have to pay back, unlike loans. These offsets include the Bright Futures merit scholarships as well as the federal needs-based Pell grants, which were used by 39 percent of Florida university students in the fall of 2015.

“Students actually pay the ‘net tuition’ amount, which is the amount of tuition and fees that remains after financial aid has been taken into account,” a Board of Governors report said.

The new student-cost metric could benefit several schools in their annual performance evaluations, while also penalizing a few others.

The most dramatic change is at New College, which ranked last in the previous institutional cost of a degree but is first in the ranking of net tuition costs for students earning baccalaureate degrees. The rise could help the school climb out of its current bottom-three ranking, although the other performance metrics have to be factored in.

“Our students gain their (bachelor’s) degrees for the lowest net price in the (university system) and we will maintain this affordability going forward,” New College said in its 2016 work plan.

Florida A&M University, which had the second highest institutional cost for a degree ranking, will also benefit under the new metric, where it comes in with the third-lowest student cost at $12,640, trailing only New College and the University of Florida, which has a $10,660 student cost for a degree.

On the other hand, Florida International University, which had the second lowest institutional cost for a degree, now has the third-highest student cost for a degree at $17,180, trailing the University of North Florida at $17,260 and Florida Gulf Coast, which has the highest cost under the formula.

The Board of Governors is scheduled to vote on the new performance rankings at its June meeting at the University of South Florida in Tampa.



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