Florida's two major research universities could gain wide power over how much to charge students under a bill sent to Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday.
The legislation would allow the University of Florida and Florida State University to raise tuition above the current 15 percent yearly cap — if it survives the governor's veto pen.
Scott, who has steadfastly said he is opposed to letting universities raise tuition this year, continued to sound skeptical about the bill when asked about it.
"I don't believe in tuition increases so I am going to look at that every closely," he said.
The legislation is an outgrowth of House Speaker Dean Cannon's complaint that the state university system was mired in mediocrity and suffered from political interference over the years.
The House spent hours listening to university presidents and eventually crafted two major bills designed to aid the state university system as well as change the requirements for college graduation.
Supporters of the bill (HB 7129) contend that the extra tuition money will allow UF and FSU to compete nationally with other well-known public universities in North Carolina, Virginia and Michigan. FSU, for example, has been trying for years to become a member of the prestigious The Association of American Universities. Right now UF is the only school from Florida that is a member.
"This legislation will enable Florida universities to break into the top ranks of research universities in our country, which will enable our schools to attract the best talent from around the world," said Rep. Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine and the House sponsor of the bill.
FSU President Eric Barron said his university plans to use money from a tuition hike for student needs and for boosting university programs in science, technology, math and engineering. He said he hoped to convince Scott to go along with the bill since FSU has to meet certain criteria in order to raise its tuition.
"We know he is keenly interested in jobs, accountability and market forces playing a greater role, and that is the focus of this bill," Barron said in a statement.
The Florida Senate voted 36-3 on Thursday in favor of the bill. Among the 'No' votes was Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who has a teaching job at UF. Haridopolos earlier in the week said he was opposed to higher tuition.
The House vote in favor of the bill last week followed a contentious debate in which some Democrats in that chamber said it would put too much of a burden on students during a time of economic hardship. They said the universities are asking for more tuition money because they have been reeling from the last few years of budget cuts.
The bill sent to Scott would allow any university that meets a list of criteria to ask the Board of Governors to raise tuition above the existing 15 percent a year cap. The legislation would also set different tuition rates for different types of programs.
UF and FSU currently meet the criteria which includes attracting students with high SAT scores, spending at least $200 million on research, retaining at least 90 percent of their incoming freshmen and having a number of nationally-recognized faculty members.
The legislation not only deals with tuition but it would allow both FSU and UF to require between three and four extra classes for incoming freshmen. First-year students entering the two schools this fall could not use credit they earned in high school in advanced placement classes or other dual enrollment programs to fulfill the requirement.
University presidents say they wanted the change in order to force students to take classes that are designed to change their "critical thinking" skills.
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