TALLAHASSEE — Two of Florida's major research universities could soon have wide power to decide how much to charge students.
Amid a backdrop of deep budget cuts for all universities, Florida lawmakers are pushing ahead with a plan that would allow both the University of Florida and Florida State University to raise tuition rates above the current limits.
A House panel is expected to take up the measure on Tuesday, while a Senate panel late last week attached the provision to an unrelated bill.
University presidents say the bill would help them get the money to raise their national profile.
"You are giving us a chance to out compete universities in other states," FSU President Eric Barron told legislators.
The push for the bill comes when Gov. Rick Scott already has come out in opposition to increased tuition hikes.
Florida legislators have the power to order tuition hikes, but universities also have the power to raise tuition up to 15 percent a year without legislative approval.
The House budget currently includes an eight percent tuition hike for all 11 public universities. The Senate budget does not order a tuition hike but gives universities permission to increase tuition a full 15 percent higher. But the Senate budget also cuts state funding to universities by $400 million.
The bills emerging late in the session would allow any university that meets a list of criteria to ask the Board of Governors to raise tuition even higher, or to set different tuition rates for different types of programs.
Both Barron and UF President Bernie Machen in January asked lawmakers to let them charge higher tuition for degrees in fields such as science, engineering and math because those courses cost more to deliver and those graduates have higher earning potential.
Under the proposed bills universities that attract students with high SAT scores, spend at least $200 million on research, retain at least 90 percent of their incoming freshmen and have a number of nationally-recognized faculty members would be eligible for the wide-ranging tuition power.
A legislative analysis shows that both UF and FSU meet at least 11 of the criteria while University of South Florida meets seven and the University of Central Florida meets only three.
Rep. Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine and chairman of the House Education Committee, stressed that the legislation is aimed at helping UF become of the nation's top 10 public universities and helping FSU gain admittance to the prestigious Association of American Universities.
Proctor said that the House will also come out with another bill that will assist the state's other public universities if they meet certain thresholds.
"I think it's an effort to move the entire system," Proctor said.