UF may get $15 million extra to pursue Top 10 status


Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 2:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 2:53 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott has proposed a $74.2 billion budget for the coming fiscal year, including $15 million to help the University of Florida achieve top 10 status in the nation.

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Scott assembled a group of educators from across the state at the Capitol on Thursday to join him for the announcement of his budget recommendation, titled "Florida Families First."

UF President Bernie Machen stood in the gallery behind Scott during the announcement, later saying he felt Scott has delivered on what he needed to drive UF into the top 10.

Machen had planned to retire this year as UF drew to a close of its seven-month search for a new president last month. But Machen agreed to remain in his post at the request of Scott, with both touting UF's renewed focus on achieving top-10 status in national rankings.

The UF community has been left wondering what convinced Machen to stay. He had announced his intention to retire last year.

"I was gone," he said, noting that his decision to remain as president hinged on increased state support.

Machen said UF already has a plan for how the extra $15 million would be spent.

"We will use all of our new resources to hire new faculty," he said.

According to the budget proposal, UF will have to submit a five-year benchmark plan with target rankings based on key performance metrics. This plan would have to be approved by the Board of Governors.

After the budget for the state's universities got slashed by $300 million last year, the governor's newly proposed budget restores that money, with much of it coming in non-guaranteed funding tied to performance measures. Of the $300 million, $118 million would be directed to the base budgets of universities.

Scott is recommending that $167 million be marked as performance-based funding, adding that performance would be measured using the percentage of graduates employed or in continuing education, the average wage of employed graduates and the average cost to produce a graduate.

"Performance measures will help Florida's higher education institutions meet the needs of students and parents and ensure a positive return on investment for all Florida families," Scott said.

Scott's budget also features $100 million in new funding for construction and renovation of facilities related to science, technology, engineering and math subjects. The Board of Governors would have the power to dole out the money to up to four universities that would have to provide matching funds.

Machen said UF would seek the funding for a new chemistry building, which has long been discussed as a critical need on the UF campus.

Scott also is recommending universities hold the line on tuition. Machen said he views the $118 million that Scott proposes in baseline funding for Florida's universities as pivotal to avoid a tuition increase.

"You have to look at that $118 million as in lieu of a tuition increase," he said.

Under another program proposed in the budget called Finish in Four, incoming undergraduates who are Florida residents would pay a fixed tuition rate through their college career if they graduate in four years.

The governor highlighted part of his budget plan earlier in the week, announcing a $1.2 billion increase in funding for K-12 education. Part of that increase — $480 million — would fund a $2,500 raise for all full-time teachers.

The overall K-12 school budget released Thursday allocates $74.9 million for school safety, up $10.5 million from the current fiscal year. According to the budget, districts would have control over how to spend the safety funding.

The public school budget also provides $100 million for digital learning initiatives.

The budget for Florida's state colleges would see an increase of $74.4 million under Scott's plan, including $14 million in performance funding.

SF College President Jackson Sasser also traveled to the Capitol for the announcement, afterward saying that the increased funding is much-needed investment.

"I think it's the best investment in the Florida college system in a long, long time," he said.

After Scott's announcement, Machen seemed satisfied with the proposal. He suggested that Scott, who is seeking re-election in 2014, may have seen the light when it comes to higher education.

"Maybe you have seen someone who's just figuring out how important higher ed is to building the economy of the state," Machen said.

Contact Joey Flechas at 338-3166 or joey.flechas@gvillesun.com.

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