Two days after trustees at Florida Gulf Coast University haggled over whether to increase tuition by 15 percent — ultimately deciding on a 14 percent hike — the state dropped that number again, to 12 percent.
Florida state universities’ requested tuition hikes and the increases granted
FGCU 14% 12%
Florida A&M 15% 12%
FAU 15% 15%
FIU 15% 15%
FSU 15% 13%
New College 15% 15%
UCF 15% 15%
UF 9% 9%
UNF 15% 13%
USF 11% 11%
UWF 15% 14%
The state’s 12th university, Florida Polytechnic University, did not make a request.
Now, administrators will have to either appeal the Board of Governor’s decision or rework the university’s budget to make up for an estimated $650,000 shortfall from projections that were based on the 15 percent increase. That 15 percent, they said, was necessary in the face of repeated cuts to state funding, which this year amounted to $3 million less for FGCU.
“It’s going to be painful,” FGCU President Wilson Bradshaw said. “The university will feel the effects of it.”
This is the first year FGCU has not received approval for its tuition increase request, he said.
The Board of Governors’ decision came during a chaotic meeting Thursday, in which only four of the eight universities that originally requested a 15 percent hike received approval. Board members frequently changed votes and Bradshaw said they appeared to have no consistent set of criteria in their decision making.
“I sat and listened very attentively as they made decisions on almost all of them and there was really no pattern that I could discern,” he said.
Watching the meeting online, FGCU Trustee Douglas Harrison was also struck by the board’s apparent lack of cohesion.
“The BOG made no attempt to explain or justify its decisions,” said Harrison, who supported the 15 percent increase — the highest allowed by law — and believes FGCU’s quality will suffer without the full amount. “The process seemed more like an auction or playing the slot machines.”
Most of the increases were approved by 9-7 margins. The board ended up approving the full increases requested by six of the 11 active universities, but reduced proposals from the others by one to three percentage points.
It was a defeat for Gov. Rick Scott, who spoke out against raising the rates when he appeared before the board on Tuesday. He said he was disappointed.
“Tuition rates have risen 71 percent over the past four years and graduates are facing unprecedented levels of debt,” Scott said in a statement. “We can’t continue on this path.”
University officials, though, say the increases will still leave Florida tuition rates among the nation’s lowest and that they are needed to at least partly offset a $300 million budget cut that Scott and Legislature ordered for the State University System.
Not all FGCU trustees were disappointed with the Board of Governors’ decision. Trustee Doug St. Cerny, one of five who voted against the 14 percent increase on Tuesday, said lower tuition will help students.
“If it drops from 15 then to 14 then to 12, it’s good for the kids, the students who come to school there,” he said. “As low-priced as we are compared to the other universities, it still costs a lot of money to go to college and we need to help any way we can.”
Students will save $111 because of the drop from 15 percent to 12 percent. Still, they will pay about $6,195 in tuition and fees next year — up from about $5,532 in 2011-12.
Some students will see the lessened hike as good news, student government president Peter Cuderman said. But he said if the quality of the university is threatened, students will suffer, too.
“In five years, our degrees will be worth nothing if Florida Gulf Coast University does not exist,” Cuderman said.
The issue of quality came up often as trustees discussed the tuition increase on Tuesday. Administrators said the university already will spend $491 less on each student and increase the number of students in each class. Without the full 15 percent hike, they said they would be forced to look at cutting student and adjunct faculty positions, as well as lowering the number of course sections offered.
Now, with just a 12 percent increase, Harrison said he’s certain FGCU’s quality will be impacted.
“Getting 12 percent instead of 14 might not sound like very much,” he said, “but we have already cut so much that 12 versus 14 may be the difference between laying people off and not.”
Bradshaw said administrators will have to “take a deep breath” and weigh the options. That includes appealing the decision made by the Board of Governors — a step that has never been taken by any of Florida’s universities. They have until Tuesday to appeal.
“We’re disappointed,” Bradshaw said. “And we’re going to see how we deal with this in the very near term.”