University enrollment may face cap

Published: Thursday, January 24, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 24, 2008 at 6:26 a.m.

TALLAHASSEE - Florida's universities should brace for dark days ahead, according to state officials assembled here Wednesday.

The state Board of Governors, which oversees Florida's 11 public universities, will consider a proposal today that would force some universities to cut enrollment to deal with looming budget cuts.

The proposal, which would prohibit universities from admitting any more students than the Legislature provides funding to educate, likely won't affect the University of Florida as much as it will other state schools. That's because UF has few if any unfunded students, according to university officials. Unlike some of the state's younger universities, UF has been trying to cap its hefty undergraduate enrollment already.

A new state policy to clamp down on admittance of unfunded students would mark a dramatic shift for the Board of Governors, which has long complained that necessary enrollment growth was going unfunded.

Until now the board has never mandated that universities only admit those students the Legislature bankrolls.

The board's new approach comes as lawmakers discuss a $1 billion budget shortfall, which education leaders say spells dire consequences for the university system.

The board already approves enrollment plans for state universities, but it has previously allowed universities to enroll more students than the Legislature funds. These unfunded students, which number about 6,000 across the state, still pay tuition. However, tuition in Florida only covers about a quarter of the cost of the student's education, according to state officials.

"It's reasonable to me as chairman that we, No. 1, support the university system to make very difficult decisions, and we tie the enrollment cuts to actual funding," said Carolyn Roberts, who heads the Board of Governors. "Because the reality is we don't know how deep the cuts will be."

UF, along with other universities, is preparing for a 4 percent budget cut on top of the 4 percent it already took this academic year. UF President Bernie Machen anticipates the cut will require a $47 million reduction in recurring funds by July 2008.

Machen, who floated an enrollment reduction when he first heard of the pending budget cuts, has since taken that option off the table. Unlike other university presidents, Machen might be able to keep it off the table, even if the board passes its resolution today because UF has so few unfunded students.

So how will UF deal with the budget cuts absent an enrollment decrease? That's a question no one at Tigert Hall is publicly answering. Machen says he'll work in concert with faculty leaders to craft a plan, and he's hoping that plan won't include layoffs.

Roberts, however, isn't so confident universities can avoid layoffs. Asked if she expected layoffs at all universities, Roberts said, "unfortunately, that's correct."

Jack Stripling can be reached at 352-374-5064 or

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