Florida lawmakers aren't just hiking tuition for the state's college students this year.
They are also getting ready to crack down on them in several other significant ways that could raise the cost of going to college.
The Senate Higher Education Appropriations Committee approved a sweeping bill on Wednesday that would not only allow Florida's 11 state universities to raise tuition up to 15 percent a year, but it would also let universities go after wayward students and those who first came to Florida from other states.
Buried in the budget conforming bill is a provision that would impose a 50 percent surcharge on any student who has failed to graduate on time. Under the proposal this would mean that most college students who take more than 8 classes than what they need to graduate would pay the surcharge. Right now that would amount to about $123 more for each "excess hours" class. But that figure would change every year that tuition goes up. Classes that would count toward to the "excess hours" total include failed classes, classes dropped after the drop/add deadline, or classes that a student repeats in order to boost their grade.
The change would not apply to current students, just those who enroll in 2009. Legislative auditors have suggested going after students who fail to graduate in four years for a while now, pointing out that during the 2006-07 school year that university students had taken nearly 900,000 credit hours in excess of what was needed for graduation. Auditors concluded that this had cost the state $76 million and that the trend of taking more and more time to graduate was actually growing.
State lawmakers went after students who fail to graduate on time back in 2005. But this "excess hours" bill was vetoed by then Gov. Jeb Bush.
Bush also vetoed another piece of legislation that attempted to impose stricter residency requirements on college students who come to Florida from other states. It's a big issue because out-of-state students pay a much higher tuition rate than state residents. (This year the base tuition rate for out-of-state undergraduates is $623.75 vs. $82.03 for in-state undergraduates.)
The bill passed on Wednesday would require proof of residency by written or electronic documentation by two or more documents, including a driver's license, a Florida high school transcript, proof of a homestead exemption in Florida, proof of 12 months worth of utility bills. The bill says that the documents must present "clear and convincing evidence" that the student is a Florida resident. And the legislation also says that the only way to get reclassified from an out-of-state student to in-state student is to have full-time employment for 12 months or purchase a home 12 months prior to enrolling.
Legislative auditors have concluded in the past that universities and community colleges were not doing enough to verify residency requirements. While changes were made, the auditors recently concluded that almost 30 percent of the non-residents who entered the state university system in 2005 had been reclassified as in-state residents by the end of the 2007-08 academic year. That figure jumped to 41 percent for students attending community colleges.