UF, SFCC bracing for 'difficult' year

Published: Wednesday, January 22, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 22, 2003 at 1:27 a.m.
While University of Florida officials have yet to see the details of Gov. Jeb Bush's proposed budget for higher education, the generalities they have seen suggest "a very difficult budget for us," UF Provost David Colburn said Tuesday.
"There's no funding for enrollment growth," he said. "This is the first time I can remember that we haven't seen funding for enrollment growth. It's hard for any university to handle the demands for students getting in without enrollment funding."
The budget Bush announced Tuesday includes $111 million in cuts to the state university system. The governor also proposes raising tuition at state universities by 7.5 percent and 7 percent at community colleges.
Colburn said he doesn't know yet what part of the funding cuts UF would absorb. But, he said, it is unlikely the shortfall will be made up by the estimated $7.5 million UF would receive from the tuition hike.
"The tuition increase will help, but it probably won't offset the cuts," Colburn said. "The governor has also proposed that universities can raise their out-of-state tuition to whatever they think is appropriate. But we have out-of-state tuition that is at or above the national average already, so we probably don't have much flexibility there."
He said UF should get the details of Bush's higher-education budget in the next day or two. Until then, Colburn said, he couldn't speculate about what adjustments UF might have to make.
"It's not clear yet what the cuts figure will be," he said. "It does look like much of the university cuts is going to offset class-size reduction (in public schools). I think that's an unfortunate burden to put on universities. It looks like the budget for community colleges is up, but only slightly, so universities seem to be carrying much of the burden."
Roland Daniels, a member of the UF board of trustees, said that although he has seen no details of Bush's education budget, the cuts "were not unexpected."
"Certainly any cuts when you're trying to move ahead and strive for excellence is not something desirable," Daniels said.
The state's community colleges are expecting about a 1.5 percent increase in funding, said Santa Fe Community College President Jackson Sasser. But much of that increase, he said, might come from the 7 percent tuition increase Bush proposes for community colleges.
"The governor said he intends to honor the will of the people on Amendment 9 (class-size reduction), so with that we anticipated a pretty tight budget," Sasser said.
He said SFCC has experienced dramatic growth recently, with an 8 percent increase in enrollment in the fall followed by a 7 percent increase for the current term. Bush acknowledged in his budget announcement that the proposal for community college funding "doesn't meet their needs to the extent that it should."
Sasser said it would be different "if this were the first year we were called on to try and accommodate that need. But we've had several years now where community colleges have grown significantly and we've basically had level funding."
"But we'll work with the governor, his staff and our legislators and make our case known," he said.
UF could weather a certain amount of budget cuts if they are spread evenly among the 10 state universities, said former Board of Regents member C.B. Daniel.
"If they took it straight across the board, that would be about $11 million for each school," Daniel said. "I think the University of Florida could take an $11 million cut without making substantial changes in funding of major programs."
But UF didn't fare very well in last year's budget, he said, and he could see the possibility of history repeating itself.
"I would suspect that percentage of cuts could be similar to last year's for UF, and if it is, then we're going to take a huge part of that $111 million," Daniel said. "Just going on what the percentage of the budget we got last year compared to the other nine universities, it doesn't look good."
Daniel said the tuition increase "had to happen."
"We're something like 47th or 48th in the nation as far as percentage of tuition students pay," he said. "That's got to be improved."
Bob Arndorfer can be reached at 374-5042 or arndorb@ gvillesun.com.

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