Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

College Aid Facing Squeeze in Future; Rising Florida Tuition Threatens Scholarships

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

College Aid Facing Squeeze in Future; Rising Florida Tuition Threatens Scholarships

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Saunders, Times-Union staff writer

TALLAHASSEE -- With Education Secretary Jim Horne saying the state needs to "shift some of the burden," the Florida Board of Education yesterday approved a plan that would force many families to pay more for college.

The board, appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush, called for substantially increasing tuition during the next decade and scaling back the Bright Futures and Florida Prepaid College scholarship programs.

Horne said state universities need to raise tuition and fees to the national average -- Florida trails by more than $1,500 this year -- to maintain quality programs. Also, he said universities could face a money crunch in the coming years as the state grapples with costly requirements such as reducing public-school class sizes.

"Something has to give, and I think it begins to give here in higher education," Horne said.

The plan, which the board passed unanimously, now must go to Bush and the Legislature. But it is unclear whether Bush and lawmakers will approve it, particularly because it calls for changes to the politically popular Bright Futures and prepaid scholarship programs.

In Bright Futures, the state pays most -- and, in some cases, all -- tuition and fees of qualified students. The prepaid program allows parents to pay present-day tuition rates to send their children to college in the future.

Some lawmakers, worried about escalating costs of Bright Futures, have floated the idea of scaling back the program in recent years. But they have shied away from making major changes to the program that benefits tens of thousands of families.

Bush yesterday left open the possibility of changes, though he said he hadn't decided whether to support the Board of Education plan. He also offered assurances that the Bright Futures and prepaid programs would continue to exist.

It is uncertain how much universities would have to raise tuition and fees during the next decade to reach the national average. That amount would depend, at least in part, on the amounts of increases in other states. Also, the Board of Education wants to give leeway to trustees at each of the 11 universities to set tuition rates.

This year, Florida's average cost for tuition and fees is $2,691, while the national average is $4,260. The board yesterday approved a budget proposal that calls for lawmakers to increase tuition by 7.5 percent next year and to give each university the choice of tacking on another 5 percent.

The Board of Education voted on the plan yesterday after months of work by a panel appointed to study the state's higher-education funding system. That panel, chaired by Horne, finished drawing up the plan last week.

The plan would require changes to the Bright Futures and prepaid programs because they are intertwined with tuition. …

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