State Universities Celebrate Lucrative Legislative Session

May 17, 2013

Florida State University is one of two "preeminent" state universities getting extra funding for meeting certain academic criteria. The University of Florida is the other.
Credit Jessica Palombo / WFSU-FM

Florida’s public university administrators are celebrating after the legislative session. Lawmakers restored funding they’d lost in the recent past. And, higher ed officials say, things like “preeminent” status for Florida State University and the University of Florida should help keep more Florida high-schoolers in state for college.

People who run Florida’s public universities are breathing a collective sigh of relief after the recent legislative session.

“We also really want to thank our legislators and the governor,” said Kathleen Daly, Florida State University assistant vice president for governmental relations. She said, after seven years of feeling repercussions from state budget deficits, the school is looking at a more than 8 percent increase in its base budget going into the next school year.

Last year alone, the legislature cut 300 million dollars from the 12-university system, but gave it back this year, as promised. Daly said, “The budget situation was a whole lot better this year. The preeminence legislation and other pieces of that bill were positive for the entire university system. We view this as a very successful legislative session as opposed to those in the past.”

Three-hundred-fifty-thousand students spend their college careers in the state university system. University System Chancellor Frank Brogan said, they should have an easier time finding jobs in their fields of study because of laws passed this session.

In April, at a signing ceremony for a sweeping education reform bill, Brogan said, “The dream that we all share that the governor enunciates so well about the creation of jobs,  the bringing together of new business and industry, broadening our economic development portfolio, just became more of a reality than a dream.”

Since last year, a commission appointed by the university system Board of Governors has been studying which degrees are most in demand in the workforce. Based on their recommendations, the new law puts more state funding toward universities with the most graduates in technological fields.

And for UF and FSU, the two so called “preeminent” schools meeting certain academic criteria, the new law awards big money. Eric Barron is president of FSU, which is getting $15 million this year and more money over five years if it continues meeting goals.

Barron said, “A portion of the funds are going to be placed in a way to take our very high graduation-retention rates and make them even higher. That’s going to save taxpayers a significant amount of money. And the second thing is, we don’t want to just be highly ranked. We want our students to have good jobs.”

That means investing in career counseling and putting job skills training into the curriculum, he said. Preeminence also means smaller class sizes and offering new, innovative degree programs like one in creating non-fossil-fuel energy.

“We’ve put out an ad for 8-to-10 faculty members, and it is astounding, the number of applicants and the high quality of applicants. This is the perfect time to be hiring,” he said.

And while most universities did not achieve preeminent status this year, they may become eligible in the future. Chancellor Brogan says, this year’s new laws are like a rising tide lifting all boats, and the state as a whole will benefit.