A Fee That Is Not a Fee

November 9, 2006

Having been stifled over the past few years by the Legislature in attempts to raise tuition, the University of Florida’s president, Bernie Machen, formulated a new plan to raise money: create an academic program and charge students $500 a semester to fund it. The university expects that the Academic Enhancement Program will generate between $25 million and $35 million annually, allowing the institution to hire 200 additional faculty members and 100 academic advisers.

But the university is quite careful to not call the $1,000 yearly hit to students “tuition” or a “fee.” The creative wording is causing some giggles. “The Board of Governors supports this third category of charges,” said Danaya Wright, professor of law and chair of the Faculty Senate. She then laughed. “I was going to say ‘fee,’ but it’s an additional charge.”

Wright said that the need to create this third category arose because the Legislature is loathe to raise tuition and fees. Florida funds the Bright Futures Scholarship Program which pays for 100 percent of tuition and fees for high school students who apply with a grade point average of 3.5 and 75 percent of that for students with a G.P.A. of 3.0. Around 95 percent of in-state students at Florida are Bright Futures Scholars, and to control the cost of the program, Wright said, the Legislature has effectively frozen tuition and fees, leaving the university in a budget bind. By creating this new charge that is not "tuition" nor a "fee," the university can raise funds without affecting the budget for Bright Futures -- because the students won't be able to expect the state program to cover the costs.

“I think the faculty recognize that we have to do something,” Wright said. “We can fund raise, but that money is tied to specific things, not general operating budgets.” Wright said that the university is poised to become a top-flight institution, but that departments have been unable to hire faculty. She points out that the college of Liberal Arts and Sciences expects 80 professors to retire soon and that only 26 are slated to be replaced.

“They do the lion's share of our undergraduate teaching,” she said. “We have departments that have not hired in five years because they don’t have the money to replace retiring faculty.”

“We don’t have the authority to call it tuition, so we don’t,” said a university spokesman, Steve Orlando.

Orlando said that the president must get approval from the Board of Governors, which would then submit the plan in the spring to state legislators. He expects that the Legislature will approve. “The president wouldn’t go out on a limb unless he felt he had a shot at it,” he said.

“We understand and have witnessed how desperate they are for money, but we want to be very careful to not jump onto any solution,” said Josh Weiss, president of the Student Senate.

Weiss said that as costs for textbooks, food and rent continue to go up, he wants to make certain that all students can afford to enroll. “This solution has to be carefully crafted so that students are not denied the opportunity to attend,” he said. “We have to ensure accessibility.”

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