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Medical schools hold out hands
New programs at UCF and FIU seek more aid, worrying existing schools.
By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER, Times Staff Writer
Published August 10, 2007
TAMPA - Fledgling public medical schools in Orlando and Miami will require tens of millions more in taxpayer dollars than originally projected, a ballooning price tag that comes as Florida lawmakers prepare to slash spending because of dwindling state revenues.
University system leaders last year approved new medical schools for the University of Central Florida and Florida International University, knowing it would cost $500-million in the first 12 years to get the programs going, then $20-million a year per school after that.
On Thursday, administrators from the two schools told the Board of Governors they'll need an additional $65-million through 2015 to meet accreditors' new standards for class sizes and technology.
The higher cost is a source of unease for existing medical schools, including the University of South Florida, where administrators want to expand enrollment and boost per-student spending.
"We're very concerned about the impact on the other medical schools," said Board of Governors member Lynn Pappas.
"If these budget numbers continue to grow, and now look at the shrinking state budget, by definition it's going to have an impact on other programs. I want to know that there is skin coming out of both sides here."
Chancellor Mark Rosenberg said existing medical schools failed during this past spring's legislative session to get money for more per-student funding because they "did not make a good case" for what it costs to educate aspiring doctors.
A state study aims to come up with better numbers, but that won't be ready until December.
In the meantime, Rosenberg will convene the state's medical school deans and college presidents to develop what he called "new synergies" for providing a "cost-efficient" medical education.
"We can help one another," USF president Judy Genshaft said. "It seems to me that we could work together in ways so that we don't need 10 different professors teaching anatomy, not when we have podcasting and other options."
UCF and FIU each plan to admit their first 40 medical students in fall 2009, but accreditors from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education will visit the campuses later this year before deciding whether to grant their seal of approval.
Administrators say new standards, some enacted just last month, will force them to invest in more expensive technologies and hire more faculty a year or two earlier than they had planned.
For example, LCME now requires fewer large lecture courses and more small-group sessions.
"Last year we gave you the best estimate we could," said UCF president John Hitt. "But new facts have come to our attention. So reluctantly, we've had to come back and ask for additional funding."
The cumulative request is for an additional $65-million, or more than $32-million per school, said UCF provost Terry Hickey.
UCF, for example, is seeking $3.8-million next year and $5-million a year after that to meet LCME's faculty requirements.
UCF and FIU are two of only three American universities in the past 25 years to create new programs training medical doctors. Florida State University, which got lawmakers' approval for its medical school in 2000, was the other.
FSU provost Larry Abele said he sympathizes with UCF and FIU, having gone through LCME's rigorous accrediting process. "This board made a commitment when it approved the medical schools," he said. "And you've got to follow through with that when it comes to accreditation."
Still, the increased cost projections clearly left some Board of Governors members concerned.
"I thought that when we approved these schools last year, the board said we want to expand our existing medical schools first, and then deal with the new medical schools," said Board of Governors member John Temple.
He said he wants to see a detailed outline of the revised cost estimates before sending the request to lawmakers this fall.
Hitt said UCF will gladly prepare one, but he also said it's foolish to assume the new medical schools are siphoning money from existing programs.
Politics in Florida just doesn't work that way, he said.
"There are amounts of money far bigger than this that float to individual universities at the end of every session, and no one bats an eye," Hitt said. "I understand that we're asking for money, and there is concern. But let's not kid each other here about this being a zero-sum game.
"I would like to talk about how we are going to make this work."