Students to feel crunch

The Board of Governors is expected to endorse university reductions today.

Published January 24, 2008

TALLAHASSEE - The Florida college cutbacks are going to get ugly today, and would-be students could feel the effects as early as this spring and for years to come.

Facing the deepest budget cuts in more than 15 years, the board that oversees the state's 11 public universities is expected to endorse systemwide enrollment reductions that would save colleges money but make it harder than ever for students to get into them.

The reductions could be worrisome news for community college students, who have long been guaranteed a spot in a state university once they earn their associate's degrees.

Another possible change: a new budgeting process where universities would hold off on admissions decisions until they knew exactly how much money they were getting from the state. If that happens, many more students will be stuck on admissions wait lists, possibly starting this spring.

The decisions expected from today's Board of Governors meeting at Florida A&M University represent a dramatic and painful shift in public higher education philosophy.

"It's going to be a very emotional meeting," warned board chairwoman Carolyn Roberts.

For years, university system leaders have promised the state's brightest students access to a quality college education. But with as much as $147-million in cuts expected before the budget year ends in June, and next year's budget looking even more grim, Board members say they can no longer afford to guarantee both access and quality.

Better to give a high-quality education to fewer students than a mediocre degree to the masses, they say.

The proposal to be considered today would direct all 11 universities to "align" their enrollment with the money available, even if it means admitting significantly fewer students starting this fall and laying off faculty members in the months to come.

"My hope would be that we tie enrollment to the funding available," said Roberts. "Because the reality is, if you admit students who don't get a quality education when they attend, you've done them a disservice. You cannot keep growing enrollment to the detriment of the students."

Chancellor Mark Rosenberg also wants to come back to the board in the spring with specific enrollment cuts based on how much the state university system gets in the budget crafted by lawmakers during the legislative session.

The 2008-09 state budget is expected to be at least $1-billion less than this year's $70-billion budget, which was already cut by $1-billion in October to deal with revenue shortfalls.

University system leaders say they can no longer continue to admit students for whom they get no state money. The system already is over-enrolled by more than 6,000 students.

And with colleges like Florida State planning dozens of faculty layoffs, there won't be enough instructors to teach those students. Florida currently has the worst student-faculty ratio in the nation, more than 30 students for every tenured faculty member.

The Board of Governors froze freshman enrollment at current levels this summer, but it says that won't be enough.

Already, universities have made painful changes that affect hundreds of employees, students and their families.

Florida State trustees last week endorsed administrators' plans to trim $30-million from the university budget. That will mean layoffs of more than 200 faculty and staff members, an extended hiring freeze, very little travel, and "restructuring" of departments. Some professors are so worried about the future, they're leaving for jobs in states like South Carolina and Kansas.

University of South Florida provost Ralph Wilcox warns that layoffs and program changes are likely unavoidable, given the university will lose more than $20-million from its operating budget before the year is out. Another $26-million cut could come in 2008-09, he said.

"None of us should be under the delusion that our ability to deliver an education of high quality won't be compromised under these circumstances," Wilcox said. "We're going to have to make some very difficult decisions."

FSU graduate Jim King, a Republican senator from Jacksonville, supports the board's proposal.

"The responsible thing to do is cut enrollment," said King, who sits on two Senate higher education committees. "How would you have them handle it differently, unless they get an infusion of cash?"

Cutting enrollment doesn't sit well with Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, who chairs the Senate's higher education budget committee.

"At a time when we need more people with degrees in our state, it's very disappointing."

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at svansickler@sptimes.com or 813 226-3403.


College budget crunch

The state's public universities are poised to cut enrollment and lay off faculty members because they expect to lose as much as $147-million before the current budget year ends, thanks to falling state revenue.

UF $40.3-million

FSU $22.4-million

FAMU $7.3-million

USF $21.8-million

FAU $11.2-million

UWF $4.3-million

UCF $16.6-million

FIU $13.5-million

UNF $5-million

FGCU $3.2-million

New College $1.2-million

Source: Florida Board of Governors

Enrollment growth

Overall state public university enrollment has grown steadily:

1997 218,290

1998 223,922

1999 232,700

2000 240,753

2001 251,984

2002 262,353

2003 271,337

2004 277,562

2005 287,335

2006 294,016

Source: Florida Board of Governors