TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - No tuition increases: That's the promise coming from the presidents of Florida's public universities.
In a united front at the state Capitol on Wednesday, presidents from Florida's 12 public universities announced they'll freeze tuition if lawmakers will pump an extra $118 million into education.
"With an investment provided for our students, we promise not to seek one penny as a tuition increase this year," said Judy Bense, president of the University of West Florida.
The announcement is a reversal from a 2008 pledge to raise tuition 15 percent a year until Florida reaches the national average. The presidents see an opportunity in a new Legislature and renewed focus on education.
"There's no question that we are the fifth-lowest state in terms of tuition in the country, but fundamentally the governor and students are saying, 'We don't want to see it go up any more,'" University of North Florida President John Delaney said.
Gov. Rick Scott has taken a hardline stance against tuition hikes, comparing them to tax increases and vowing to stop them.
"The governor is very opposed to increasing tuition, and we understand and we also are concerned about the students," said Judy Genshaft, president of the University of South Florida.
Cortez Whatley, student body president at the University of Central Florida, said four straight years of tuition hikes are taking a toll on his classmates.
"The traditional student is much different than it was in the past," Whatley said. "Students are working two or three jobs, paying for their own schooling, and they're really suffering for that."
The leaders of Florida State University and the University of Florida dismissed questions dealing with whether they would continue to seek "preeminent university" legislation, vetoed by Scott last year, allowing schools that meet certain standards to raise tuition by virtually unlimited amounts.
"It's a different topic," said FSU President Eric Barron. "We need to have preeminent universities. We need to have those metrics and support that allow universities to be preeminent."
And UF President Bernie Machen stressed the standards that were part of that bill as the key benefit.
"The tuition aspect of it was simply one mechanism that could be used to receive new resources," Machen said. "This is part of that whole plan. You've got to take a much longer view of where we're going with the university system than just focusing on one year's tuition issue."
With a proposal on the table, next comes the negotiation with state lawmakers over where to find the extra cash.
The chairwoman of the House Education Committee said it's still too early to tell if the Legislature can find the $118 million the presidents are requesting.
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