Despite record donations, UF tuition must rise, Machen says


President Bernie Machen speaks to faculty during the annual State of the University address at Emerson Alumni Hall in Gainesville on Thuesday.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, August 28, 2014 at 5:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 28, 2014 at 5:51 p.m.

In what will very likely be his last state of the university speech before retiring, University of Florida President Bernie Machen told faculty on Thursday, "Our tuition needs to rise."

Facts

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The Board of Trustees has asked University of Florida students, faculty and staff for another round of input in its search for a new president to replace Bernie Machen when he steps down in December. Interested people can go to presidentsearch.ufl.edu website and submit comments under the “community input” tab.
The next meeting of the search committee is Sept. 5, which is also the same day the Chronicle of Higher Education will run an ad for the president search.

Even if tuition were to increase significantly, Machen said, UF still would be a great value, noting its current ranking among the top 10 best values in several financial magazines, including Moody's and Forbes.

His comment, which came toward the end of his speech, stands in sharp contrast to what Gov. Rick Scott has been campaigning on during his re-election bid — that colleges and universities need to be more affordable. Scott has vetoed tuition increases by the Legislature and criticized his Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist, for overseeing double-digit tuition increases when he was Florida's governor.

Machen and administrators at other public universities in Florida have advocated that they need some degree of autonomy in setting tuition rates to meet their budgetary needs, to retain valued professors and recruit new faculty, to stay competitive with universities in other states, and to establish need-based scholarships.

Florida is ranked last among the 50 states in per-student spending, accounting for state funding and tuition, said the LeRoy Collins Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. Because of legislative control, Florida also has the nation's lowest college tuition rates among public university systems.

As a result, the state's universities, including UF, have had to freeze or reduce freshman enrollment and cut back full-time tenured faculty positions through attrition, leaning more heavily on part-time faculty and graduate students to teach courses.

Legislation signed into law by Crist in 2009 created a tuition differential, which allowed the state's universities to ask for an additional increase above the legislative rate as long as the combined tuition rate increase was no more than 15 percent.

After three years in a row of a combined 15 percent increase, which saw the cost of tuition rise from around $45,000 to nearly $54,000, the Legislature didn't set a tuition rate increase in 2012. The following year, Scott vetoed a 3 percent proposed increase, but a 1.7 percent statutory automatic increase for inflation slipped through.

This year, the Legislature eliminated the cost-of-living adjustment and the tuition differential for all but the state's two pre-eminent universities — UF and Florida State. The Legislature also capped the tuition differential at 6 percent.

In 2013, the Legislature also began restoring the massive cuts it had imposed on higher education — restoring $300 million that had been cut and adding another $314 million.

The Legislature also designated UF as the state's pre-eminent university, signaling a major policy shift.

"This was the first time in Florida's history UF had been singled out this way," Machen said.

Because of its pre-eminence status, UF will continue to receive an additional $20 million for the next four years to hire up to 120 new faculty, he said. The university already has signed 50 pre-eminent faculty, with 26 of those people already on campus, he said.

"We anticipate hiring more of those pre-eminent faculty in the coming years," Machen said.

UF received $215.3 million in private donations for the fiscal year ending June 30, a record amount Machen said was driven by donors getting excited about the UF Foundation's $800 million pre-eminence initiative to support the work of new faculty hires.

It's the second year in a row that private giving has exceeded $200 million, he said. Last year, the university received $211 million.

"We have been pleasantly surprised by the traction this campaign has gained among donors," Machen said. "They want to be part of pre-eminence — a cause that is bigger than any one of us."

About $140 million of those donations is going into program support, and $85 million to faculty, a chart in Machen's slide presentation showed.

UF also hit a record in research dollars received for the 2013-14 fiscal year, at $702 million — a big increase over last year's $641 million, and $24 million more than the $678 million received in 2010, the previous record holder.

Another pre-eminence key objective that Machen talked about is developing a core curriculum that all undergraduates would have to take. Two courses have been developed and will be launched as a pilot program this fall — in addition to the already required "What is the Good Life?"

One focuses on climate change. "Given the urgency of climate change in Florida and our world, I couldn't be more proud of our faculty for choosing this topic," Machen said. "It is a good example of a premier higher-education institution leading the way to the future."

The other focuses on how data inform and influence our lives. "The aim is to equip our students with the tools to analyze the vast quantities of data flowing from our technological times," he said.

If they succeed, the courses will be available to all students by 2015 and a fourth class eventually will be added.

Machen also talked about the progress being made with UF Online. The Legislature gave UF the task of creating the state's first fully online four-year degree program, which launched in January with just under 600 students, all of them transfer students from other programs. The university admitted 321 students this fall, both transfer students and first time in college students.

"The number is small, but I think it is to be expected in light of the novelty of a fully online, four-year program in Florida and, indeed, nationwide," Machen said.

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