Once again, the USF Board of Trustees has approved a tuition increase. This time a 1.9% increase for the 2021-22 academic year. However, it was conditioned on the return to a primarily in-person environment for the fall semester which starts August 2021.
This is the smallest tuition increase in a decade. The last two increases, for the 2019-20 academic year and the current academic year, were both in the 4% range.
Tuition will increase from $51,930 to $52,920 for the 2021 academic year.
The Board of Trustees voted to approve the resolution on Dec. 4, 2020 after University administration officially presented the tuition increase proposal as part of a larger budget package for the 2021-22 academic year.
The Board of Trustees declined to comment for this story.
Sources told the Foghorn that the Board of Trustees, for the first time in years, were not all in agreement over the tuition increase. In both the deliberations among the board’s finance committee and the full board, a number of trustees were not comfortable with raising tuition in the middle of a global pandemic. This is an uncommon sentiment, as for the last three years the board acted as a rubber stamp for the administration’s tuition proposals.
ASUSF Senate leaders saw the number of trustees who decided not to approve the increase as a win. “It was very encouraging to see that Trustees engaged with the student representatives on the BOT Finance Committee, which allowed them to see other perspectives other than the administration’s,” said Berkelee Jimenez in an email to the Foghorn. Jimenez is the undergraduate student representative to the University Budget Advisory Council (UBAC). “I feel that this is very important for the future of our University. Although I wish there was not a tuition increase, I am glad that the student’s perspectives were FINALLY taken into consideration.”
University President Paul Fitzgerald, when asked about why the administration was seeking a tuition increase, wrote, “we are very much aware that any increase in the cost of enrolling at USF presents challenges for our students and families. We take very seriously the pressures that financing a college education poses to students and families. A proposed increase in tuition and fees is examined closely in light of the stewardship and fiduciary responsibilities of the administration and trustees, balancing our obligations to faculty, staff and students.”
This balancing act has become a major point of contention among multiple stakeholder groups on campus. Despite the general controversy surrounding tuition increases, the University’s financial problems will not be solved by this 1.9% increase. The University is still navigating a $60 million revenue deficit which hampers its ability to perform essential operations, such as paying its employees and responsibly navigating its construction debts.
USF, like many other educational institutions across the country, is in financial trouble due largely to the tuition-and fee-based model of higher education. USF specifically depends on housing fees as a large source of income. The lack of students filling residence halls these past two semesters has affected the institution’s ability to accumulate revenue with which to sustain itself.
Kellie Samson, spokeswoman for the University, added that the primary driver for a small tuition increase would be to support its employees, “especially those compensated at the lower end of the pay scale and all who participated in the university-wide salary reductions program.” Samson added that the University aims to restore compensation levels partially depending on its financial outlook, which remains uncertain in light of the ongoing pandemic.
This is in line with ASUSF Senate’s resolution to back the tuition increase with the added condition that the school use any revenue from the increase to fund salaries for employees who make less than $128,000 annually. Similarly, the UBAC also backed the tuition increase under the condition that an increase be no more than 1.9% and that it only take effect if students return to campus.
“The decision by the Board of Trustees is, unfortunately, a surprise to no one. Students did not want a tuition increase given the circumstances, but I am confident that the action by the Senate to put our foot down on tuition discussions was a major factor in the President recommending that the 1.9% increase be conditional on a return to campus,” said ASUSF Senate President John Iosefo in a statement. “If we are online for the Fall, it would be unfathomable to go through with the increase, and it will be on us to hold them to that.”
Ethan Tan is a junior politics major and the Foghorn’s News Editor. He covers the University’s administration and campus labor unions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tanethans.