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USF frets over cost of growth

USF isn't sure how it will pay for an expected surge in enrollment.

ROB BRANNON
Published July 27, 2003

The University of South Florida will send a report to the state legislature early next month predicting a nearly 50 percent increase in enrollment in the next decade, taking the four-campus institution from its current 42,000 student population to almost 60,000. That's the good news.

The bad news is that in a time of budget crisis, USF officials remain unsure of how the university will pay for this expansion, which one estimate puts at $15-million per 3,000 students, or $5,000 per student.

It is with those numbers in mind, and several growth and enhancement projects already on the table, that the USF Board of Trustees approved legislative budget requests Thursday. USF is asking for $4.6-million in graduate enrollment funding, which would bring it to the same level as Florida's other two leading research universities.

Included in USF's legislative wish-list is a five-year Capital Improvement Plan. USF is hoping to spend almost $30-million during the next budgetary year: $8-million on infrastructure, $5-million on a music building and $15-million on a Health Care and Education Center. USF's St. Petersburg campus is pushing for $19-million for construction and to acquire property to expand the already cramped downtown campus.

In addition, USF will ask the legislature for the authority to move forward, when appropriate, on nearly $200-million in bonded projects. Included are the already under way parking and athletics facilities. Also included is residence hall construction and a proposed $29-million revamping of the Phyllis P. Marshall Center, USF's student union.

USF board members say they understand the school will probably have to expand with less money from the state. With that in mind, university president Judy Genshaft told the board her plan: finish current projects before starting new ones and allocate a little bit of money to each project instead of piling all of the money on one project and cutting others.

An example of the university's compromise position was included in the board's prepared packet. USF was originally given an appropriation of $6.2-million for the Chemistry Building renovation and $1.7-million for the Natural and Environmental Sciences Building renovation.

University officials want to compromise and allocate $3.4-million for the Chemistry and $4.5-million for Natural and Environmental Sciences.

But the board concedes even with crafty allocating and deft lobbying, the coming years may be difficult.

Genshaft said USF is continuing to pay for enrollment growth without help from the state. Some board members have questioned whether, if the current budgetary problems remain, USF can continue to follow its strategic plan. If it can't, a fallback may be in order.

USF's legislative proposals will be submitted at the beginning of August. Then, said board chairman Dick Beard, USF will join other Florida public universities in hoping for the best and bracing for the worst.

"It's going to be a hard year," Beard said.

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