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Colleges score wealth of state funds

The Legislature earmarks hundreds of millions of dollars for everything from construction to scholarships.

By BARRY KLEIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 9, 2000


The state lawmakers who put the Board of Regents on a fast track to oblivion were much kinder to the rest of Florida's higher education system, doling out record amounts of money during the legislative session.

Florida's university system received a budget increase of $181-million for next year, an increase of 8.3 percent, from the Republican-controlled Legislature. The 10 universities also will split $265-million in construction money. That was $120-million more than the system requested.

The University of South Florida got $10-million to build new clinics at the school's health sciences center. Florida State University received more than $9-million to spruce up a gymnasium built when the school still was a women's college.

"In terms of money, it was a bonanza year for the system," said regent Phil Lewis.

University students may not be quite as thrilled, since they are looking at a 5 percent tuition increase, the 10th such increase in 12 years. A USF student who is a Florida resident will be charged $49 a credit hour next year, up from about $47 this year.

Many of those students, however, will benefit from a sizable increase in financial aid.

Lawmakers added $20-million to the Florida Student Assistance Grant, the state's largest need-based financial aid program. The increase was requested as part of Gov. Jeb Bush's One Florida plan.

Students attending independent and non-profit schools, including Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, also had a good year.

Lawmakers increased the maximum award available under the Florida Resident Access Grant from $2,074 to $2,813. That is the largest one-year increase in the program since the grant for students at independent schools was created in 1979.

"We're ecstatic," said Ross Bannister, a spokesman for Eckerd, where the annual cost of room, board and tuition this year approached $22,000.

"Students who feel they have to go to a public school now will have more of a choice," he said.

Those larger schools will have some new offerings next year, thanks to the Legislature's beneficence.

Florida State University got $50.8-million to open a medical school. It also got $1-million to plan for a chiropractic school.

Florida A&M University, the state's historically black college, received $2.5-million to plan a new law school. So did Florida International University in Miami.

USF also fared well during the session, garnering a 10.9 percent increase in total state funding.

No USF campus, however, did as well as its branch in St. Petersburg.

Lawmakers earmarked $4.2-million for enrollment growth and the creation of new degree programs. They also elevated the Department of Marine Science, which is based at the Bayboro campus, to a college.

That means marine science no longer is part of the Colleges of Arts and Sciences in Tampa, an arrangement that required it to share a portion of the money it generated in federal grants each year with other departments.

Department chairman Peter Betzer, who now will report directly to the provost rather than through a college dean, said the change was long overdue.

He said marine science expects to garner at least $16-million in federal grants next year, or more than 25 percent of the total brought in by the entire university this year.

"And that's from just 24 professors," Betzer said. "We deserve this designation."

University system officials even were smiling about actions the Legislature didn't take.

Lawmakers declined to approve a bill that would have made USF's St. Petersburg and Sarasota campuses into independent schools. They did, however, authorize a study.

No action was taken on a bill that would have required universities to start ranking any gift they wanted to make eligible for matching funds.

If the bill had passed, only donations that advanced a school's state-mandated mission were likely to be matched. That horrified university fundraisers, who feared they would have to tell donors they wanted their money, but not enough to put it on the list.

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