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House higher ed panel pushes along in-state tuition, preeminence bills

2013 may finally be the year for the college-bound children of undocumented immigrants.

On Wednesday, the House higher education panel approved a bill granting in-state tuition to teenagers who are U.S. citizens, but whose parents are undocumented. Historically, those students have had to pay out-of-state rates to attend Florida’s colleges, universities and technical schools, even if they were born and raised in the Sunshine State.

The bill has been killed over and over again. But this year, it has newfound legs. House Speaker Will Weatherford expressed support for the idea this week, and lawmakers from both political parties are pushing similar proposals in the Senate.

Read the full story here.

The higher education panel also gave a nod to a controversial proposal that would allow one state university to be named Florida’s preeminent research institution. The criteria for making such a judgement? Student performance, retention rates, research spending, national rankings and endowment, among other factors. 

If the bill were to become law, the preeminent university would be required to establish a fully online arm. The second-best university would have to create a master’s program in cloud computing and establish an entrepreneurs-in-residence program.

The proposal also lays the groundwork for funding Florida’s colleges and universities based on performance, rather than enrollment. And it would exempt colleges and universities from the state caps on bonuses and severance pay.

Last year, the Legislature passed a bill allowing "preeminent" state research universities to raise tuition and fees at differentiated rates each academic year. Gov. Rick Scott vetoed it.

Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, a Miami Republican who chairs the higher education committee, said she expects the proposal to move forward this year because it doesn't explicitly tie preeminence to funding. 

"We want to be able to attract the best and the brightest in the U.S.," she said.