TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/AP) – The chairman of the House’s Education Committee has warned that funding cuts and tuition caps will erode the quality at the state’s universities, particularly two of Florida’s top research schools.
This year the Legislature cut state university funding by $300 million, the latest in a series of reductions.
Gov. Rick Scott then vetoed a bill that would have let the state’s top two research schools, the University of Florida and Florida State University, raise tuition more than the 15 percent per year allowed under existing law to help those schools improve their national academic rankings. Scott said he was worried that raising tuition rates would increase student debt at a time when many graduates are facing dim job prospects.
“That’s certainly his prerogative, but at some point we are going to have to address how we’re going to fund the state universities and, of course, the community and state colleges,” Committee chief Rep. Bill Proctor said. “At some point, if not now already, our quality is going to begin to erode. It’s inevitable. It can’t be helped.”
Proctor has urged the schools to put the veto aside and set funding priorities that match their diverse missions.
The St. Augustine Republican ticked off statistics indicating that erosion has begun at least at some of the 11 universities. Seven have freshman retention rates below 85 percent while six have four-year graduation rates below 25 percent, six-year graduation rates below 50 percent and minority graduation rates below 50 percent, Proctor said.
He also noted the University of Florida is the only state school that’s a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities compared to six of California’s public universities.
Council member Jon Moyle, a retired lawyer, said he had mixed emotions after hearing Proctor’s message.
“At least one of them is the challenges that lie ahead of us are pretty scary,” Moyle said.
State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan, also a council member, said the priority-setting process that Proctor called for, which was another aspect of the vetoed tuition bill, already has begun.
Each school will be expected to outline their aspirations to the Board of Governors, which oversees the system, during its June 20-21 meeting at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, before the panel decides whether to approve tuition increase up to the 15 percent at each campus, Brogan said.
Even if the board approves the maximum, Florida’s tuition rates will remain among the nation’s lowest.
Brogan said he expects the board to approve metrics-based differentiated missions for each of the universities along with goals and their plans for reaching those outcomes.
“One of my greatest frustrations in the two-and-a-half years I’ve been here is the inability to nail down by institution what they perceive to be their most important undergraduate programs, graduate programs and research strengths,” said Brogan, a former lieutenant governor and ex-state education commissioner.
Brogan chided the universities for prioritizing new graduate and professional programs while ignoring the basic “blocking and tackling” of making sure undergraduates stay in school and graduate. He cited Florida A&M University’s push to add a dental school although its four-year graduation rate is only 13 percent.
“You need to take a breath and put your efforts, your energies and your resources into getting that graduation and retention rate up before you want to hang more ornaments on the Christmas tree,” Brogan said.
Florida’s universities have very different missions, students and capabilities, Proctor said. He said the Carnegie Foundation classifies four as very high research universities and two each as high research, doctoral/research and masters universities. The final member of the state system, New College, is a bachelor’s degree-level school.
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