Crist wants $100M for universities
The governor did not say where the money would come from in a tight budget year.
Published: Friday, January 29, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 11:18 p.m.
TAMPA - Gov. Charlie Crist announced Thursday that he would seek to boost state university funding by $100 million, as a down payment on an ambitious effort to double funding in five years.
The governor left open the question of where he would get the money as the state faces an expected budget shortfall around $3 billion. But Crist, after announcing the plan before the Board of Governors, struck an optimistic note in saying the economy was improving and investing in higher education would help in that effort.
"As we know, everything is about jobs right now and the best place that we can help our young people is to invest in education," he said.
Members of the board, which oversees the 11 universities in the state system, said the money would help universities embark on what they've deemed the New Florida initiative. The initiative aims in five years to increase annual degree production by 25,000 and add 2,500 new faculty in the system as part of efforts to diversify the state economy.
"We are committed not to crawl out of this recession. ... We are committed to sling-shot out of this recession," said Frank Brogan, system chancellor.
The long-term plan seeks to see state university funding increase by $1.75 billion over five years through tuition increases and higher state support. The goals echo recommendations released earlier this month by the influential Council of 100 business group.
UF President Bernie Machen, while noting that UF was still recovering from cuts in recent years, said he was encouraged by state support in the idea of investing in the so-called knowledge economy. As for increasing enrollment, he said UF would consider putting the brakes on plans to cut its enrollment further but he didn't see those numbers growing.
"It's a balancing act between resources and enrollment," he said.
Crist, who's locked in a heated primary challenge in race for the U.S. Senate, proposed increasing university funding $100 million annually starting in the next budget year. He deflected questions about the source of funding, saying that the economy is starting to "percolate" but acknowledging the plan is no sure thing.
"Making a budget recommendation is only that," he said.
Republican legislative leaders have already said they believe his proposal for boosting public school funding is based on overly optimistic projections. The Council of 100's announcement of its plan to double university funding was met with similar skepticism.
The proposals come as UF has lost more than $100 million in state funding over the last three years. Historically, UF has received about 22 percent of state funding, so a $22 million infusion would only start to pull the university out of the hole.
Machen said his immediate goal is using money from tuition increases to pay for raises.
Stimulus money is being used to hire up to 100 new faculty, with tuition paying for their salaries once the stimulus runs out. Machen said additional money would help fund other initiatives.
"We would certainly be able to make some things happen," he said.
The New Florida initiative aims to use universities to diversify the state's economy beyond agriculture, tourism and housing. It seeks to use Florida's universities in a similar way that Silicon Valley and the Research Triangle in North Carolina have been able to use universities there to attract high-wage jobs in technology and other emerging fields.
In exchange for dramatically higher funding, the initiative is setting goals of increased patents awards by 100 and research funding by $500 million in five years, with even more ambitious goals set for the state by 2030. Universities would also agree to new measures of accountability on such things as graduation rates.
The initiative comes as a recession has decimated state coffers and has caused surging unemployment. But Brogan said the recession is the reason to invest now in universities.
"This could be - and I think in many ways is - a historic time for our state university system," he said.
Nathan Crabbe can be reached at 338-3176 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/nathancrabbe.