FGCU Board of Trustees OK 15 percent tuition increase

Up and up it goes.

Increased tuition at Florida Gulf Coast University awaits just one more vote this week to become reality for incoming freshmen, after Tuesday’s Board of Trustees meeting.

For the second year in a row, trustees at FGCU approved a 15 percent tuition increase for incoming freshmen, which brings the tuition to $4,981 for a new undergraduate student taking a standard 30 credit hours of study, an increase of about $472.

That means tuition at FGCU is still $2,000 shy of the national average for in-state tuition at public universities.

FGCU, like its 10 public peers across the state, has the authority to continue raising tuition up to 15 percent annually until it reaches the national average. State universities were required this year to raise tuition at least 8 percent, and trustees at FGCU had to vote to approve the additional 7 percent.

Though FGCU’s tution rate remains well below the national average, it is among the highest in the state, pointed out student body President Peter Ryther, a member of the board.

Before voting against the tuition hike, Ryther urged the rest of the board to carefully consider its significance.

“Increasing the tuition a maximum of 15 percent will discourage students and their families from Florida,” Ryther predicted. “The student body does support growth, but only appropriate growth in these extremely difficult economic times.”

Vice President for Finance Joe Shepard said the university would have to continue raising tuition 15 percent each year for six years to reach the national average, assuming the national average keeps increasing at a rate of about 5 percent annually.

The national average this year was $7,020, but Ryther said the rate of increase is just too rapid.

“I think the maximum (increase) is out of bounds,” Ryther said after the meeting. “I believe it will be consistent in the future years that they will continue to raise it as maximum as possible, and we would like to see there be some wiggle room for students.”

FGCU’s proposal for the maximum 15 percent tuition increase will go to the state Board of Governors later this week, when it will hear budget proposals from all 11 universities. Every state university is seeking the full 15 percent increase, according to the Board of Governors.

In other actions, the Board of Trustees at FGCU has approved the 2010-11 budget, which includes 2 percent raises for faculty and staff and a $1,000 one-time bonus for faculty and staff. Vice President for Finance Joe Shepard said those raises, the first in two years, were dependent upon the tuition increase, which effectively replaces the loss of state revenue in the coming year’s budget.

Across the university, the raises and bonuses are anticipated to cost the university about $948,000 more in the next fiscal year, out of an expected $84 million in salaries and benefits. Total expenditures for the university are expected to run $164.2 million, roughly 14 percent more than the current year.

Tuition and fees will make up about 32 percent of the university’s budget next year, up from 29 percent this year.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, trustees also approved the purchase of bonds to finance the purchase and refurbishment of an off-campus housing complex that went into foreclosure in 2009.

University officials are awaiting acceptance of a $14.2 million bid to buy College Club apartments, and bank approval of the purchase. The 500-bed housing complex would require an anticipated $2 million to $3 million in repairs and security upgrades, Shepard said. He said the total cost would still be less than half the funding needed to build a similar housing complex from scratch.

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