They may be gridiron rivals, but the presidents of The Florida State University and the University of Florida are jointly asking for public support of Gov. Charlie Crist’s new comprehensive approach to improve the quality of education for the 300,000 students enrolled in Florida’s state universities.
Florida State President T.K. Wetherell and University of Florida President Bernard Machen launched the SOS program — Stand up for Our Students — at the FSU-UF football game on Saturday, asking fans to go to a new Web site, www.studentsos.org, for information on how to contact their legislators.
In addition, both presidents will discuss the topic Wednesday, Dec. 3, on the public television program "Issues in Education," broadcast in Tallahassee on WFSU-TV, Comcast Cable Channel 5, at 7:30 p.m. (EST), 6:30 p.m. (CST) in Panama City.
If current budget predictions hold, the state’s public universities will have lost a quarter of a billion dollars in cuts over two years. UF and Florida State are throwing their full support behind Crist’s proposal to allow university boards of trustees to implement differential tuitions, with one-third of the money going to need-based scholarships.
Both presidents said the governor’s reforms will strengthen all 11 universities now and for decades to come by establishing clear lines of governance at the individual institution and state levels and by balancing financial needs with affordability for families. The result will be high-quality universities that prepare graduates for the marketplace.
Wetherell said the need for the tuition increase is clear.
"Positions have been frozen now. We are not hiring, and we’ve reduced the number of classes. We are looking at eliminating certain programs. We just believe we need to take action to retain a certain quality," he said.
A tuition increase is the best means to bolster the universities, Wetherell said, but it doesn’t need to be — and won’t be — a steep increase.
"If you implemented it fully for the next four years for an incoming class, Florida still would have the lowest tuition in the nation," he said. "And it’s important to remember the return students get on that investment: better labs, more classes, full summer school, more full-time faculty, all the things that make a university like Florida or Florida State a leading institution."
Machen said the tuition increase would help curb the loss of good programs and good people without being an undue burden.
"It’s the cost of your cell phone," he said. "It’s less than $500 a year that the student or his or her family will have to pay out of pocket."
Machen said he is encouraged by how quickly students at both universities have rallied to support the plan.
"Both of our institutions are blessed to have the best students, really, in the country. And they get it," he said. "They’re coming to our places, as opposed to going out of state, because they expect to get a world-class education, and they realize that the resources we are losing are preventing them from getting all that they want."
Crist’s proposal will allow universities to:
- Provide $5 million in need-based aid in the first year alone
- Maintain quality for existing students
- Offer courses needed for graduation
- Raise tuition up to 15 percent a year
- Provide access to new students
- Retain and recruit professors
The bold new reform:
- Allows local control of each university by trustees, a group that includes the student body president who represents the concerns of students. Even if the maximum increase is levied, tuition will still be the lowest in the country.
- Will cost approximately $12 more per credit hour for nearly 70 percent of the UF and FSU students who receive a Bright Futures scholarship.
- Will be no additional cost for the approximately 25-30 percent of students currently holding Florida Prepaid contracts.
- Will cost about $300-$400 per year for all other students — adding less than 3 percent to the total cost of attendance.
- Will give students choices at different costs, as it is likely that each university will adjust costs to reflect the marketplace.
- Will require universities to demonstrate accountability in areas such as increased retention and graduation rates in order to participate in the program. Graduating students in a timely manner saves significant dollars for the student.
Wetherell and Machen say they hope that, since the students at Florida State and the University of Florida are standing up for themselves, the people and leaders of Florida will stand up for them, too.