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Legislature

State universities dodge deepest cuts to funding

Tuition will rise, and there will be $40-million less than last year. Still, it could have been worse, presidents say.

By ANITA KUMAR
Published May 24, 2003

Florida universities will get $40-million less next year. They won't receive any money for the 22,000 new students expected to enroll. And they'll get just a fraction of the money needed to match private donations for scholarships, faculty and research programs.

But university administrators breathed a sigh of relief Friday: Though the news was bad, it wasn't the calamity they had feared.

While state legislators are expected to pass a spending plan next week that includes significantly less money for higher education, it will have significantly more money than when budget negotiations began.

"You're thankful you didn't get murdered, but you did get cut up a bit," said Florida State University president T.K. Wetherell.

Students took one of the hardest punches. Undergraduate tuition at the 11 universities will go up 8.5 percent next year - the eighth consecutive year tuition has increased. That will cost the average in-state student an additional $229, raising their annual bill from $2,691 to $2,920.

Out-of-state, graduate and professional students could be hit even harder. Their tuition will go up at least 8.5 percent, and could climb to 15 percent, depending on the individual school.

The $40-million in funding cuts - coupled with enrollment growth - will likely mean fewer teachers and degrees, larger classes and more competition to get into some schools because of enrollment caps.

FSU, for example, already has frozen freshman class admissions and expects to lay off dozens of nonteaching personnel. Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers has suspended faculty searches and cut travel. The University of South Florida's Health Sciences Center has imposed a hiring freeze.

And those changes come on top of a $167.5-million university system cut this year, and a total of $450-million in reductions over the past 12 years. After factoring in inflation, the amount of state money allocated for each university student has dropped 15 percent in the past four years.

But the news wasn't all bad. Student leaders were pleased that the Legislature avoided cuts to the Bright Futures scholarship program that pays all or much of the tuition for 110,000 college students.

"We know the universities are underfunded, but we are happy where things ended up," said Scott Ross, executive director of the Florida Student Association, which lobbies lawmakers.

University presidents said they believe the unprecedented lobbying campaign they waged during the final weeks of the session helped persuade lawmakers to restore some of the cuts.

But they still fell short in the area of matching grants. Though the universities will receive about $40-million to match private donations, the state still owes more than $60-million to match hundreds of other donations, and millions more for 35 construction projects.

"We are so relieved and happy the budget came out so much better," said University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft. "The efforts that we made - individually and combined - allowed legislators to hear voices in higher education."

The state's 28 community colleges fared about as well as the universities.

They will get no money to pay for the 150,000 to 180,000 new students expected to enroll. And the state is giving them an additional expense - increasing their mandatory retirement contributions, which will cost about $11-million.

The colleges will receive about $24-million to match private donations.

They will make up some of the funding shortfall by increasing tuition up to 7.5 percent. That could force students to pay an additional $114 a year, raising their annual tuition costs from $1,525 to $1,639.

"It was a tough year," said Michael Comins, a lobbyist for Hillsborough Community College. "We have kind of mixed emotions about what we came away with."

The cuts would continue a painful trend for community colleges.

While enrollment has increased 27.5 percent since 2000, their portion of the state budget has grown just 1.8 percent.

"Considering what it could have been, I'm grateful," said Carl Kuttler, president of St. Petersburg College.

In recent years, community college students have been able to get into classes, but not always the ones they needed or at the times they wanted.

Next year, however, tens of thousands of students may find themselves shut out of all classes, especially if they enroll late.

"We've got a crisis in the community college system," said Harry Albertson, executive director of the Florida Association of Community Colleges.

State lawmakers are expected to approve a $52-billion spending plan for next year that provides Florida's 11 universities and 28 community colleges with less money than this year.Below are some highlights:

Universities

$40-million in university system budget cuts.

No money to pay for the 22,000 new students expected to enroll.

Tuition to go up 8.5 percent. Out of state, graduate and professional students are facing increases of up to 15 percent.

Bright Futures scholarships to remain fully funded.

Community colleges

$11.2-million in systemwide budget cuts.

No money for to pay for the 150,000 to 180,000 new students expected to enroll.

Tuition to go up as much as 7.5 percent.

Bright Futures scholarships to remain fully funded.

- Source: Florida Legislature

[Last modified May 24, 2003, 02:05:29]


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