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2012 November 26 - 12:00 am

POLITICS and POLICY: Panel Wants Limit on Florida 2-Plus-2 Tuition

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Gov. Rick Scott’s higher education task force tentatively agreed to recommend holding the line on tuition for certain “two-plus-two” students who start at community colleges and then complete their degrees at universities.

The proposal calls for keeping tuition at about $15,000 for the full four years until Florida’s unemployment drops to 7 percent or below for students in what are deemed to be programs of strategic emphasis, like high-demand, high-wage and high-skill fields.

It was suggested by task force member Frank Fuller, a former educator serving as senior policy adviser on K-20 education to the Florida Senate. He said it would offset other recommendations for raising tuition at what would be designated as “preeminent universities” and charging different rates based on a student’s field of study.

“I’m trying to make this just have balance on both sides instead of just having the whole thing have an upward lift,” Fuller said. “Sustaining the two-plus-two plan I think is critical to Florida’s economic growth and our future.”

The seven-member Blue Ribbon Task Force on State Higher Education Reform is recommending giving the Board of Governors a bigger role in budgeting and the selection of university presidents. The board, which oversees Florida’s 12 public universities, now has approval authority only for presidents selected by local boards of trustees.

Task Force member and state Rep. Bill Proctor, a St. Augustine Republican who chairs the House Education Committee, voiced support for the two-plus-two tuition proposal.

“One of our big weaknesses is that we have everybody locked in at about a $6,000 tuition rate” annually at the public universities, Proctor said. “When I looked at other systems across the country, I find that they run anywhere from $13,000 to $16,000 within a state down to $6,000-$5,000.”

The panel’s various tuition proposals would give Florida a similar variation that would take into account differences in its universities, which have varying degrees of focus on research and graduate programs, as well as different subject areas within each school.

The task force envisions using the lure of lower tuition rates to encourage more students to enter programs of strategic emphasis.

The panel, though, removed all mention of the Board of Governors’ recently adopted 2012-25 strategic plan from its recommendations after Proctor questioned it.

“My personal opinion is it’s an audacious plan and I applaud that,” Proctor said. “On the other hand, I’m not sure it’s realistic absent a major infusion of funding, which doesn’t seem likely.”

Noting such plans can change fairly often, the board revised its recommendations so they simply refer to strategic goals set by the board.

The panel plans further discussion on developing a recommendation that would respond to the affect its tuition proposals would have on such programs as prepaid tuition and Bright Futures scholarships, which are based on merit rather than need.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing to say that the financial aid implications to this whole project has to be taken into consideration and that ongoing study needs to be done” said panel member Marlene O’Toole, a Republican state representative from Lady Lake who chairs the chamber’s Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

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