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Report suggests options to cut cost of college

Cheaper tuition for classes at less popular times is among several alternatives proposed.

By Associated Press
Published August 27, 2004

TALLAHASSEE - A college student willing to take classes early in the morning, late in the day or on Friday afternoons would pay less if tuition alternatives released Thursday by legislative auditors are adopted.

Those pursuing degrees in critical fields such as nursing or teaching would also pay less to help the schools meet shortages in some fields.

Those were among several options for paying for higher education included in an eight-page analysis by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability.

"We're willing to talk about all of those," Florida State University president T.K. Wetherell said. "There are all kind of variations within them. We think a bunch of them have merit."

A student would also be able to save money by taking additional hours if schools charged block tuition, a flat amount that covers a minimum of 12 hours. By taking additional hours, the student could also graduate earlier as well.

The incentive for taking the early and late classes would also help the state make better use of its facilities.

The report said only a third of university classrooms are in use between 8 and 9 a.m. and just over one-fifth are being used after 2 p.m. Fridays. Classroom usage in community colleges dips below 10 percent on Friday afternoons.

The report also said policymakers could give universities flexibility to increase their tuition or even provide vouchers directly to students rather than the schools - a relatively new phenomenon now being tried in Colorado.

University presidents have sought to get more tuition authority for their respective boards of trustees or the Board of Governors, the statewide governing body for the state's 11 public universities.

The report noted that Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas were the only states where the tuition authority rested primarily in the state Legislature.

"And we're the most regulated of the four," said Wetherell, a former legislator, twice speaker of the House. He added that Florida must make some changes in how it pays for higher education. "As more and more people look at the facts of the matter, it's becoming more difficult to stay on the road we're on."

Trustees now have some authority over tuition increases, but only within limits set by lawmakers.

The report also noted that loosening control over tuition rates could lead to concerns about affordability and threaten the Bright Futures Scholarship program as well as the highly popular Florida Prepaid program, which lets future students lock in their costs when they buy contracts to pay for tuition and other associated costs.

The analysts said if university tuition increases averaged 10 percent annually, the prepaid program would run out of money to cover current contracts by 2018.

Nearly a third of today's university undergraduates in Florida receive some form of state or federal need-based assistance.

Other suggestions:

Lower tuition for areas of critical needs, such as nursing or teaching.

Different tuition rates based on financial need.

Vary tuition for upper- and lower-division courses.

[Last modified August 27, 2004, 01:13:17]

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