State calls on colleges to cut costs, add clarity

Carol Oatis, right, of the Village of Amelia and the instructor for the microbiology class, shows Ashley Higgins how to prepare a slide for examination Thursday at Lake-Sumter State College.

George Horsford, Daily Sun

No doubt about it — a postsecondary education often comes with a hefty price tag, and the cost increases year after year.

But that may not be the case anymore.

With the recent passage of House Bill 7019, more commonly known as the College Affordability Bill, calling for greater clarity of costs and measures to be taken to provide an affordable degree, Floridians may not have to shell out an arm and a leg followed by years of student loan debt to earn a college education.

“We want every student to have the resources they need to get an affordable education in Florida,” Gov. Rick Scott said during a recent ceremonial signing of the legislation at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

Here is a look at what area schools are doing to help cut costs for students seeking a degree:

Lake-Sumter State College

Last year, LSSC, with campuses in Leesburg, Sumterville and Clermont, was one of 10 Florida schools to make the 2015 College Affordability and Transparency List for the lowest net price of four-year or more public institutions around the country.

The report published by the U.S. Department of Education ranked LSSC the third most-affordable four-year public program in the state, with costs after scholarships and grants averaging just $4,680 per year, far less than the national net price average of $11,877.

Net price includes tuition, books and supplies, room and board, personal and medical costs and transportation, according to the report.

The LSSC Foundation awarded 880 scholarships in 2015 worth a total of $614,000. Since 2008, the foundation has provided more than $3.7 million in scholarship funds.

“College affordability continues to be a focus at LSSC because of the obvious link to college completion,” LSSC President Stanley Sidor said. “College affordability has long been a focus for the leadership and District Board of Trustees, so much so that the college has forgone tuition increases for the past four years.”

To further cut costs, LSSC also implemented a textbook affordability task force dedicated to providing the most affordable material for students.

The school allows use of digital content, along with price-matching the cost of textbooks purchased through the campus bookstore, opportunities to rent new or previously used materials and more.

College of Central Florida

From the hundreds of public four-year institutions across the country, CF was listed No. 18 on the College Affordability and Transparency List for lowest in-state tuition costs, amounting to just $2,522 per year, according to the Department of Education.

With an estimated net price of $8,206 per year for students living at home, before scholarships and/or financial aid, CF has taken major steps to ensure students can earn an affordable degree.

“The key is to make the highest quality and most affordable education for our students to access,” CF President James Henningsen said. “We strive to keep our costs down for programs most relevant in the community.”

To accomplish this task, CF, with campuses in Ocala, Citrus County and Levy County, has done away with programs like cosmetology and auto body and service that either are low in demand or duplicated by other nearby institutions.

CF soon will launch a pilot program to implement open source textbooks and material, free to students, saving them thousands of dollars.

In 2015, CF students received more than $976,000 in scholarship funds; more than 500 alumni have donated to the institution over the past five years.

The school recently added a new position dedicated to counseling and educating students regarding their financial aid to help avoid unnecessary debt.

Taylor College

Not far from Florida’s Friendliest Hometown, Taylor College in Belleview received accreditation from the Council on Occupational Education in 2006.

Focusing on programs in nursing and physical therapy, along with online and career preparatory courses in phlebotomy, medical and nursing assistance and electrocardiogram, the professional health care academy offers two-year associate degrees and various health care certifications.

For students wishing to earn a certification in a specific field, the career preparatory courses, ranging from 40 hours over a period of three weeks to 125 hours spanned over 10 weeks, serve as a more economical option than a full two-year degree.

Tuition and registration fees for these programs range from $459 to $1,420.

“Our courses were developed for those who want to enter the field of health care, get trained, certified and seek employment,” President Diana Hammond said. “It’s a low-cost, short-term program designed for those who want to go into the medical field and get their foot in the door.”

Costs for students seeking an Associate of Science degree at the private for-profit institution range from $30,435 to $34,745, depending on the program.

Taylor College awards numerous scholarships to students, along with conducting annual evaluations to help lower costs for students.

Often, those who are graduating will donate, lend or sell their previously used textbooks to current students at a fraction of the retail price.

University of Central Florida

With more than 60,000 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in more than a dozen campuses across the state, including downtown Orlando, UCF maintains its status as a powerhouse in education and the second-largest university in the nation.

For the 2015-16 academic year, the estimated cost of attendance for in-state students totaled $7,553, which includes tuition, fees, textbooks and supplies.

The university also has maintained a flat-rate tuition for the past three years.

“With the national average student loan debt reaching record numbers, it is important to ensure that all students have access to a high quality, affordable education,” said Briant Coleman, executive director for strategic initiatives, communications and marketing for the university. “UCF is one of the nation’s best values as ranked by Kiplinger and Princeton Review.”

According to the university, 48 percent of all UCF students graduate debt-free, substantially higher than the national average of just 33 percent.

Recently, UCF invested in a system to track and map student success as they puruse their degrees.

By analyzing the data, the university plans to increase efficiency in the curriculum, therefore graduating students earlier and reducing the amount of debt from student loans.

The university also has awarded $34.9 million in scholarship funds, the third-most in the state, to graduating high school students through the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship program.

University of South Florida

With four campuses, including Tampa, USF is home to about 48,000 students and more than 200 bachelor’s, master’s and postgraduate degree programs.

USF ranks 15th of all universities to be granted U.S. patents, and also boasts an impressive health care program.

The university estimates the total cost of textbooks, supplies, tuition and fees to be $7,410 per year for in-state students, keeping a competitive price point with other major universities.

“USF has actually closed graduation gaps across demographic groups while raising our percentage of low-income students,”  said Dwayne Smith, senior vice provost and dean to the office of graduate studies at USF.

Financial counseling services are offered to USF students free of cost, along with numerous employment opportunities around campus and nearby businesses through partnerships with the university.

USF also has a textbook affordability project, providing students with options that include digital content, open access textbook material, rental programs and material available through the campus library.

USF annually awards more than $200 million in student scholarships, grants, and tuition waivers to students.