Editorial: UF's present


Published: Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 1, 2013 at 11:45 p.m.

Compared to the last few years of relentless budget cuts, it suddenly seems like Christmas at the University of Florida.

Gov. Rick Scott's budget proposal would give $15 million to help UF become a top-10 public university, part of the deal he made to keep UF President Bernie Machen from retiring.

But the real goodies come in the rest of Scott's higher education budget. He would restore the $300 million cut last year from state universities and add another $93.3 million to the mix. Additional money would go to information technology programs and science-related facilities.

Of course, there are strings attached. About $167 million would be allocated based on the performance of universities. Scott is also opposed to any tuition increases and wants universities to establish a fixed tuition rate that would stay the same over four years.

The latter idea is something that Machen proposed last year when he was trying to convince the Legislature to give him more power over tuition. He won over lawmakers, only to have Scott veto the measure.

So it's definitely good news that Scott now seems to be in UF's corner. But there's something that keeps us worried that there's coal hidden in the stocking.

One concern is whether the Legislature will go along with the plan. With Scott also making promises such as a $2,500-a-year raise for K-12 teachers, it's hard to believe that lawmakers will go along with everything that the governor is proposing.

Even if they supported everything, they might not even have the money, depending on what happens with the economy and how it's affected by federal budget shenanigans.

Another concern is the performance measures that will be used in allocating that particular pot of money. UF has to feel better than other state universities on this count, given that it performs better than thei do in measures such as graduation rates.

Scott is focused on measures relating to the employment and wages of graduates. It's heresy to some UF professors, but the governor is right to bring more attention to measuring the value of degrees in landing jobs. But there's also a risk of turning UF into a vocational school.

Beyond Scott's plan, the Legislature could take actions that could help or hurt UF. House Speaker Will Weatherford has thankfully backed off a little in his idea for a new, online-only university. We hope that he instead supports corralling the university system's existing online options together, an effort that UF would be well suited to lead.

Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz support incentives to increase enrollment in fields that offer the best job opportunities. Incentives like scholarships are good ways to do so, giving a positive reason for students to pick those fields. But an idea to charge different tuition levels for different majors poses the risk of defunding the liberal arts and humanities.

It seems like higher education will be a major focus of the upcoming legislative session. We hope that's a good thing, showing a new appreciation for the importance of the state university system. After several years of UF spending Christmas without any presents under the tree, it's overdue.

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