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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman August 2, 2013

Rick Scott 'increased tuition at our state colleges and universities by double digits,' Florida Democratic Party says

Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who grew up with working-class parents, paid for college by working at a doughnut shop he bought with a friend and with help from the G.I. Bill.

Now a millionaire and a former hospital executive facing re-election next year, Scott has tried to channel the pain of Florida families trying to pay for college. In April, he vetoed the Legislature’s 3 percent tuition hike.  

"It’s ridiculous how much tuition has gone up in the past five years," Scott said. "Families are struggling."

Is wealthy Scott now the savior of the ramen-noodle eating, penny-pinching college crowd?

Not so fast, says the Florida Democratic Party. Don’t forget about the first two legislative sessions under Scott.

In July, the Democrats unveiled a new website (Ads for the site have appeared on PolitiFact Florida.)

The attack website accuses Scott of trying to hide his "real record," including that he "increased tuition at our state colleges and universities by double digits."

We decided to do our homework on how higher education tuition has changed under Scott.

The complicated way tuition is set

First, here's some background about tuition.

The Legislature sets base tuition. If there is no base tuition increase provided in the state budget, tuition goes up by the rate of inflation.

Individual universities can ask the Florida Board of Governors for an extra increase known as the "tuition differential." Together, the base tuition and tuition differential can add up to no more than a 15 percent increase.

Technically, it’s the Board of Governors, not Scott, that gets to vote on a tuition differential increase. But Scott appoints that board, and he has asked their opinions about tuition raises in interviews.

Florida has 11 existing universities -- a new one, Florida Polytechnic, will start enrolling students in 2014.

Florida also has 28 state colleges and community colleges. Those schools don’t need permission from the Board of Governors. Instead, the individual boards of state can generally approve tuition increases.

Scott's actions on tuition

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Here we will focus on the part of tuition that Scott clearly has power over: the base tuition increase.

Under Scott’s first approved budget in 2011, the base tuition for universities increased by 8 percent -- the same as the preceding two years under Gov. Charlie Crist.

For state colleges, the increase was also 8 percent.

In 2012, Scott vetoed a bill that would have allowed the University of Florida and Florida State University unlimited flexibility to raise tuition. The Legislature did not grant any base tuition increase for universities that year, but it structured the budget in such a way that universities were expected to seek that 15 percent tuition differential, the Tampa Bay Times reported. (In reality, those increases were all over the map.) For state colleges (again, separate from state  universities), the budget included a 5 percent tuition increase.

So Scott didn’t have to sign a budget with a tuition hike -- even though schools received tuition increases that year from the Board of Governors.

The Democrats arrive at their double-digit figure by adding the 8 percent in Scott’s first year to the 5 percent in Scott’s second year. But that 5 percent only applied to state colleges -- not universities.

We asked the Florida Democratic Party why they included colleges and universities in the claim.

Spokesman Joshua Karp noted that two other pages on their attack website specified "college tuition" only -- for example stating "hiking college tuition by double digits."  

"The distinction between colleges and universities is something very few papers make," he said. (Karp sent us a few articles in major newspapers that didn’t make it clear that the 5 percent only referred to colleges.)

John Holdnak, chief financial and budget officer for the Florida College System, said he would not call the 8 percent increase one year followed by the 5 percent increase the second year a double-digit increase.

"The annual tuition growth is less than double digits," he said. (One page of the Democrats’ website specifies that the 13 percent is over two years.)

Holdnak gave us this example: an employee who gets a 3 percent raise one year, a 3 percent the next year and a 4 percent raise the third year would not say he received a 10 percent raise.

This year, Scott vetoed the 3 percent tuition increase and encouraged universities to forgo the 1.7 percent automatic increase -- a few schools found a way to offset that hike, for example by decreasing fees. Scott isn’t to blame for a law that requires the automatic increase.

It’s worth noting that despite increases, Florida’s tuition remains among the lowest in the country. Tuition has risen largely in response to the drop-off in state funding.

Our ruling

The Florida Democratic Party said Scott "increased tuition at our state colleges and universities by double digits."

Democrats point to the base tuition increases of 8 percent in Scott’s first budget year and 5 percent in his second year. The state colleges did have those increases, but the universities only had the 8 percent hike -- not the 5 percent the next year. That line also didn’t specify a time period: that increase is over two years, not one. More recently, Scott has opposed additional tuition increases.

We rate this claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

Florida Board of Governors, Tuition and fees fact chart, June 25, 2012

Tampa Bay Times, "Rick Scott calls tuition hikes a tax increase, but signed on to them in the past," May 31, 2013

Tampa Bay Times, "Gov. Scott’s interest in university system crosses the line, some say," June 10, 2013

Tampa Bay Times, "Without Scott’s blessing, increases are all over the map," June 21, 2012

Tampa Bay Times, "Florida board of governors approves 7 percent tuition hike," June 23, 2011

Tampa Bay Times, "Limit rise in tuition, Scott says," April 18, 2012

Tampa Bay Times, "Board leaves student fees unchanged," June 21, 2013

Palm Beach Post, "Scott seeks political tenure," June 9, 2013

Palm Beach Post Post on Politics blog, "Scott rips Congress for student loan hike," July 1, 2013

PolitiFact, "Rick Scott claims 24 tax cuts since 2011," June 3, 2013

PolitiFact, "Will Weatherford compares tuition costs with cell phone bills," April 3, 2013

PolitiFact, "Florida ranks 45th in the nation for tuition costs, Denise Grimsley says," Feb. 27, 2012

Sun-Sentinel, "Florida allows 15 percent tuition hike at universities," June 28, 2011

News Service of Florida, "Tuition to increase 15 percent at Florida universities," June 24, 2011

Tampa Bay Times Gradebook blog, "Gov. Rick Scott urges university trustees to hold tuition flat," May 24, 2013

WFSU, "Scott to University presidents: we will hold the line on tuition," May 24, 2013

Sunshine State News, "Rick Scott did not -- repeat not -- raise university tuition," Nov. 30, 2011

Florida Times-Union, "Gov. Rick Scott wants Florida universities to avoid tuition hikes," June 20, 2012

NBC Miami, "Florida Gov. Rick Scott to universities: no more tuition hikes,"  Nov. 8, 2012

Gainesville Sun, "Scott urges universities to hold the line on tuition," June 4, 2013

Gainesville Sun, "Scott vetoes UF-FSU tuition bill," April 27, 2012

Florida Fiscal Portal, budget documents from 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013  

Interview, Kim Wilmath, spokeswoman for the Florida Board of Governors, July 30, 2013

Interview, Joshua Karp, spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party, July 29, 2013

Interview, John Tupps, spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott, July 30, 2013

Interview, Cheryl Etters, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education, July 30, 2013

Interview, Sue Arrowsmith, spokeswoman for Miami Dade College, July 31, 2013

Interview, John Holdnak, chief financial and budget officer for the Florida College System, July 31, 2013

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Rick Scott 'increased tuition at our state colleges and universities by double digits,' Florida Democratic Party says

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