Economic recession affects cost of attending public colleges

By William Lowrey

Public colleges have always served as a place for non-traditional and lower income students to earn a college degree when they otherwise might not have had the chance. Today though, the role of public colleges is being threatened by the economic recession.

Many states have been hit hard by the recession. With several states facing bankruptcy, state governments have been scrambling for ways to slash budgets. Public colleges sit as low hanging fruit on the list of state expenditures.

Starting this fall semester 2011, the Florida Board of Governors has given Florida public colleges permission to raise tuition by up to 15 percent over the previous year. For Palm Beach State students, this new measure will be in addition to the already climbing cost of tuition that
began with the recession. Palm Beach State’s in-state tuition for the 2007-2008 academic year was $70.50 per credit hour. Today, tuition is $96, a 28 percentincrease since 2007.

“Because of state budget cuts and enrollment increases, we have to do more with less.” notes Leonard Bruton, associate dean of academic affairs at the south campus.  “Obviously we don’t like to [raise tuition], but we have to, to stay competitive.”

Along with rising tuition costs,many students face decreasing returns on academic and athletic scholarships. Many
students depend on Florida Bright Futures Scholarships and the program is seeing unprecedented cuts in its 14-year history.

The average funds awarded per student by Bright Futures is estimated to be cut by 39.2 percent by the Florida Access Network, from $2,548.33 in the 2010-2011 academic year to $1,548.33 in 2011. According to the Bright Futures web site, this is along with stricter terms for eligibility that  i nclude the submission of an error free FAFSA every academic year and the completion of a greater number of community service hours.

These cost-cutting measures represent only the latest changes for a program that has been slowly gutted. As stated on the Bright Futures Web site, college-related expense allowances once awarded to recipients has been discontinued, and the funds awarded to students
has been shifted to a flat rate instead of by percentage of credit cost. Another austerity measure incoming students may encounter includes an excess hour fee passed in the 2011 legislative session of the Florida House of Representatives. This fee would penalize students unsure of their  major, making students pay extra for additional courses after completing a bachelor’s degree worth of credit hours.

Even after they go on to a graduate school, many new students will still feel the pinch thanks to a change in how subsidized federal loans operate  to be enacted in 2012. At that time, students will begin accruing interest on their federal loans before they graduate, instead of the grace period  that was previously provided until after graduation.

This cut to the program was a consequence of the debt-ceiling deal that was signed into law on August 2.

“It needs to stop,” says Ravina Zaman, a sophomore at the Lake Worth campus. “It’s already hard enough to try and afford everything else, without having to worry about school becoming more expensive.”