As the University continues to face a financial crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the always contested topic of a tuition increase shot back into the limelight.
Prior to Thanksgiving break, ASUSF Senate was made aware of a potential 1.9% tuition increase for the 2021-22 academic year. The increase would differentiate from increases for the prior two academic years, which have been around 4%. On Nov. 18, ASUSF Senate voted to adopt a resolution regarding the potential tuition increase.
The resolution “formalized the student body’s position on any budget that the university presents to the Board of Trustees,” according to an email from ASUSF Senate president John Iosefo. It outlines four positions on the future budget:
First, if the 2021-22 school year is online, tuition should not increase. Second, if students are allowed on campus in some way, no tuition increase should exceed 1.9%. Third, funds from any increase should go entirely to staff who made less than $128,000 before the pandemic. Lastly, “the university should draft a semi-conservative budget, with well-understood augmentations in case we return to campus,” Iosefo said. “We included this in our decision so that students, staff, and faculty will not have to deal with the last minute, drastic budget cuts and extremely public negotiations that occurred in the summer.”
This resolution comes after students expressed frustration with financial decisions made by the University’s administration since the beginning of the pandemic. In the spring, USF opted not to give a partial tuition refund, despite classes moving online and financial hardships brought on by the pandemic for students. Students continue to argue that moving online decreased the quality of education and services they are paying for in hopes that the University lowers tuition.
At the same time, University officials are dealing with a budget crisis in which it still needs to pay its employees, debts, and keep the lights on, despite having lower enrollment numbers this academic year as a result of the pandemic. Consequently, a tuition increase could lessen the burden the University faces in dealing with the financial crisis.
University President Paul Fitzgerald commented, “the Associated Students of USF issued a resolution … expressing concern about any tuition increase, yet supported the administration’s recommendation for the lowest possible increase in order to help at least partially restore salaries and jobs at the university.”
The University Budget Advisory Council (UBAC), which includes student, administration, faculty, and staff elected representatives, was first informed of a potential tuition increase for the 2021-22 academic year by the University administration earlier this semester. The council recommended that the 1.9% tuition increase be approved on the condition that USF returns to an “on the ground” modality for the 2021-22 academic year.
The UBAC does not have the power to reject or approve the administration’s proposed tuition increase as the council only serves in an advisory role. ASUSF Senate resolutions only indicate the position of the Senate and the opinion of the student body to the administration. The University Board of Trustees has the final say over any tuition increases.
The Board of Trustees will meet for their winter quarterly meeting on Dec. 4. They have approved all recent tuition increases — including the most recent one that took effect in August in a unanimous vote — despite student protests.
Berkelee Jimenez, the undergraduate student representative to the UBAC, informed ASUSF Senate about the potential tuition hike. ASUSF Senate, in recent years, has worked with student groups and issued multiple statements regarding tuition increases, traditionally advocating for no tuition increases. Jimenez and Iosefo, along with Tanya Sanjay, the vice president for marketing and communications, introduced the resolution.
“It looked pretty clear to the Senate that a tuition increase was likely to be approved, so we decided to take a new approach,” wrote Jimenez in an email backing Senate’s position. “After analyzing the situation and sharing personal experiences of the students on UBAC multiple times, it became apparent that if the student population was to take a hard stance on advocating for no tuition increase we wouldn’t have gotten anything accomplished.”