Universities Seek Funding Boost In 2018 Session

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GAINESVILLE (CBSMiami/NSF) – The Florida Board of Governors on Thursday approved a $5.1 billion budget request for the state university system, including a $100 million increase in state performance funding.

The request for the 2018-2019 academic year includes an additional $179 million in state funding, or a 3.6 percent increase. Also, the 12 universities outlined another $326 million in spending proposals for consideration during the 2018 legislative session, which starts in January.

The request follows a year in which the university system received a major funding boost, including $121 million to allow schools to hire “world class faculty” and to support high-performing medical, law and business graduate schools.

It follows a trend where state support for the university system has grown by nearly $1 billion since the fall of 2010, according to a report from Tim Jones, the Board of Governors’ vice chancellor for finance and administration.

Under the new budget request, state funding of $3.1 billion would be coupled with just under $2 billion in tuition, meaning the state support represents 62 percent of the budget.

The university system’s budget has risen from $3.5 billion in 2010-2011 to about $5 billion this year.

At the same time, tuition rates, under Gov. Rick Scott’s direction, have been frozen. Florida ranks 49th among the states in average tuition and fees, according to the College Board. Florida’s average tuition of $6,356 was well below the national average of $9,547 for public universities.

The increase in state funding for universities has been coupled with performance standards, which measure the schools on metrics like graduation rates and job placement for graduates.

The 2018-2019 budget request reflects that trend with performance funding increasing to $690 million next year, including the $100 million increase in state funding. If approved, performance funding will have more than tripled since the 2014-2015 academic year, when it was $200 million.

Performance has been improving, with the board hearing an update on its strategic goals during the two-day meeting at the University of Florida.

Tom Kuntz, chairman of the Board of Governors, noted universities are retaining second-year undergraduates at a rate of 86 percent, which is a 9 percent improvement since the 2005-2006 academic year, with the board’s goal set at 90 percent by 2025.

The six-year graduation rate for the system is at 66 percent, with a 70 percent goal. And the four-year graduation rate is at 45 percent, with a 50 percent goal by 2025.

Kuntz said the system is falling short in its effort to produce 90,000 baccalaureate degrees annually by 2025, but he noted a majority of the degrees are now being awarded in programs of “strategic emphasis,” including health professions, science and engineering.

Other highlights in the budget request include a $5.1 million increase for the engineering college jointly run by Florida A&M University and Florida State University; $3.6 million for New College of Florida’s growth plan; and $40 million to allow more “cluster hiring” of faculty and researchers across the system.

In addition to the board’s budget request, the 12 universities are advancing another $326 million in spending proposals for consideration in the Legislature.

Florida State and the University of Florida each want $25 million more in funding awarded to “pre-eminent” institutions. UF also wants another $60 million for the “world-class scholars” and high-performing professional and graduate school programs, while FSU is seeking an additional $45 million for those programs.

The University of South Florida is asking for $20 million in pre-eminence funding, with expectation that the Tampa-based university will join FSU and UF in reaching that level of performance in the next year.

Florida Gulf Coast University is seeking $32 million as part of an effort to bring its per-student funding up to a level similar to other institutions. The Board of Governors agreed to look into the proposal.

But at the same time the university system is asking for a budget increase, the schools also had to prepare plans to cut their spending by 10 percent in the next year, which would represent a $291 million reduction.

Although not likely to be adopted by the Legislature in total, the budget reductions can be used by the governor and lawmakers as they shape the next state budget.

The universities said a 10 percent cut would diminish much of the progress the schools have made under the increased funding and performance standards over the last few years.

For example, UF said a $62 million cut, if not offset by other revenue, “could not be spread across the university without significantly reducing quality, impacting the pre-eminence program and stalling UF’s drive to rise among the top public research universities.”

FSU said a 10 percent cut “cannot be absorbed through efficiencies or trimming around the edges.”

“Rather, a $34.8 million reduction would unravel the progress FSU has made in recent years toward student success and faculty development,” the school said.

Florida International University said a $23 million cut would force a reduction of 169 faculty and staff members along with losing the ability to enroll 2,800 new students.

The News Service of Florida’s Lloyd Dunkelberger contributed to this report.

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