Why universities need tuition boost

By JOHN BOYLES Special to the Times
Published May 14, 2007

As the student body president at the University of Florida, it is my duty to ensure that a quality education is affordable so that a barrier is never created that would prevent anyone from obtaining that education. For this reason, as others have been before me, I have been highly skeptical of tuition increases.

But the tuition differential program that Florida legislators recently passed - and which Gov. Charlie Crist may veto or allow to become law - is different.

This program is about improving the quality of undergraduate education at UF. For this reason, I wholeheartedly support it. Other UF student leaders and students feel as I do. In a historic departure, my fellow elected representatives in the Student Senate last fall passed, by a supermajority, a resolution to support an earlier version of this plan.

The tuition differential program would allow UF to raise tuition as much as 15 percent annually above the standard statewide increase. Over time, UF could set its tuition 40 percent higher than other schools. Only students enrolling this fall or after would pay the differential.

I and others have supported this initiative because UF will ensure that the extra dollars are exclusively devoted to hire desperately needed undergraduate academic advisers and faculty members.

As a student at UF for the past four years, I know from personal experience that current class offerings cannot meet demand. Many of my fellow students have been forced to extend their stay beyond four years, past the reach of Bright Futures or the Florida prepaid program. I also know that many of our classes are too crowded. Although this plan cannot bring in enough money to end these problems, it will allow us to add more sections of the most popular or most required classes, while also decreasing their size.

I also am all too familiar with the problems that result from a lack of academic advisers. The fact is, students often have to wait too long and spend too little time with the professionals who can help them identify and plan their course of education.

The result of these additions would not just be smaller classes and more guidance. It would be a more intimate, more personal educational experience, one more akin to what Florida students deserve. With added classes and assistance, many students will graduate in a better place financially. They will be able to graduate on time instead of missing a needed course because of overcrowding or not receiving the direction they need from an adviser.

While I believe in the program's goals, I would never support it if I thought the costs were out of line. But the fact remains that in Florida, with the lowest tuition of any state universities in the country, tuition is not the major cost of an education.

UF has the lowest tuition and fees of any of the 60 universities in the American Association of Universities and is dead last in USA Today's 2006 survey of tuition at 75 flagships nationwide.

Quality education doesn't come cheap, and an affordable education does not mean keeping tuition from increasing. Our universities have less to spend on hiring the best faculty and staff, and they struggle to pay salaries high enough to retain the excellent people we have. Stopping tuition increases reduces our educational quality. It lowers the return on Florida taxpayers' investment in their universities. There is no question that we need better need-based financial aid programs, but simply refusing to increase tuition does not ease the burden of the cost of a college education.

The vast majority of students attending UF do so on Bright Futures Scholarships, which pay most or all of their regular tuition costs. While Bright Futures would not cover the new costs of the program, UF has assured us that the costs of any student on need-based aid will be covered and any UF scholarships that already cover tuition and costs also would cover the difference.

The Legislature, the elected voice of the people, has spoken. The decision now rests with the governor. I hope the ample reasons for him to support this plan to improve the quality of our education are clearly stated here.

John Boyles of Orlando is the outgoing student body president of the University of Florida.