By Anastasia Dawson
If she wasn’t graduating from USF this semester, Angela Lagano said she probably wouldn’t be able to afford attending school next fall, when USF’s tuition could increase by as much as 15 percent.
“I have a Bright Futures (scholarship) and I have a lot of loans,” said the senior psychology major. “At the beginning of the semester I had six jobs … and five classes. I had no time. I was doing homework at work and then doing six jobs at the same time.”
The Florida House of Representatives and Senate voted to increase universities’ base tuition by 8 percent Monday, as well as allow all universities the option of adding an additional 7 percent increase. Though tuition could go up by as much as 15 percent, USF Associate Vice President of Government Relations Mark Walsh said in an interview that state-sponsored scholarships, such as the Bright Futures program, and higher education funding will decrease.
It’s a pattern that USF Senior Vice Provost Dwayne Smith said is cropping up across the U.S. In an effort to save money, states are beginning to make significant cuts to their higher education budgets, he said in an interview, while raising tuition so students incur some of the extra costs.
“One of the only other options to bring in more revenue for states is to increase taxes,” Smith said. “Yet the later part of this decade has been one that is very much of an anti-tax fervor … and has come about in a political climate where people are really starting to put on the breaks about taxation.”
Walsh said it is up to the Board of Trustees to determine whether USF will increase tuition by the full 15 percent, but the “tuition increases offset a lot” of the university’s lost revenue. Because stimulus funds, which USF used in its base operations budget, are no longer available, the House and the Senate are currently debating reducing state funding of universities by 9 percent, he said, yet have until May 6 to draft a final budget plan.
He also said the two chambers have “basically” agreed to cut awards for the Bright Futures program from $437 million this year to $350 million next year. As a result, Walsh said the eligibility standards will be heightened for the 2013 high school graduating class, and he anticipates the per credit hour award will be lowered “based on whatever they can afford for $350 million.”
“What (USF) asked legislators for (in terms of funding) was essentially the number that is necessary to run the university system,” Walsh said, “and whether that comes from state funds or tuition is not as important to us as having the amount of revenue. When the state’s not able to pay for that, that tuition becomes all the more important.”
Over the past three years, USF’s tuition has steadily increased, said USF Provost Ralph Wilcox, yet the actual costs of an education haven’t changed much.
“The cost of a … full-time equivalent undergraduate student is about $10,500,” he said. “Today it’s the same as a decade ago, which is pretty amazing when you think about the impact inflation has had on faculty salaries. “
According to USF’s University Scholarships and Financial Aid website, the estimated cost of attendance for an undergraduate student living off campus for the 2010-11 academic year $15,300 for a Florida resident and $26,110 for an out-of-state student.
Walsh said the legislature’s proposed budget cuts are “in the neighborhood” of what USF anticipated, yet the university is still holding out hope for greater financial support from the state. With more funding, USF would actually profit from the tuition increases, he said, instead of using the extra money to offset reductions.
“I do think that this will probably be the … lowest of the budgets from the state perspective, because we’re hoping the economy will recover,” Walsh said. “The state’s economists are projecting a recovery, so we’ll have more state funds to deal with. What happened this year was a perfect storm of issues where the economy hasn’t quite picked up fast enough … and there were some other issues with state things like Medicaid that are increasing their costs.”
Until then, Wilcox said administrators will have to “be much more responsive in the ways that private universities are,” because students are “demanding much more” from their educational experience since they are paying more.
Regardless of the outcome of the legislative session, Wilcox said USF will prioritize need-based financial aid — something Lagano said would save students like her from unneeded stress.
“I was so determined to get in to school that I was studying for my SAT my freshman year (of high school),” Lagano said. “But even with scholarships I had to work to put myself through school … When I think about it it’s like, ‘I know that I’ve done it, but how did I do it?’”