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Strategic Budget Advisory Committee (SBAC)
Strategic Budget Advisory Committee

Lawmakers Trim 4% from University Budgets

January 17, 2009

By Lindsay Peterson - The Tampa Tribune

For universities and colleges across Florida, the bad times started two years ago. And like nearly everyone these days, higher education officials see their finances going from bad to worse.

This week, Florida lawmakers took 4 percent from the state's college and university budgets for 2008-09. That amounts to $93.5 million for the State University System's 11 institutions.

Add that to the $259 million lost since 2007 and fears of more cuts when the Legislature goes into its regular session this spring.

"If anyone thought there was any fat in this system, we rendered it with this week's round of cuts," said Joe Glover, provost of the University of Florida.

The universities have eliminated hundreds of open positions, and faculty and staff are "running with their tongues hanging out" to keep up, said University of Central Florida Provost Terry Hickey.

Officials say more reductions will cut into the meat of their academic programs.

After losing 4 percent of its budget this week, the University of South Florida will have given up a total of 15 percent, or $52 million, since fall 2007.

"Another double-digit percentage cut would redefine not just USF, but higher education in the state of Florida as something very different from what it has been," said USF Provost Ralph Wilcox.

Only Alabama and South Carolina have lost more from their 2008-09 university budgets, according to a study from Illinois State University's Center for the Study of Education Policy. Nationwide, the news has been gloomy.

Overall, colleges and universities across the country have received less than a 1 percent increase in appropriations for this academic year. Illinois State education professor James Palmer expects that number to go down after all the cuts are tallied.

Officials Prepared For Cuts

State university and college officials said they were prepared for the 4 percent cut passed this week. Gov. Charlie Crist asked them last year to set the money aside.

By that time, officials had been dealing with bad financial news for months. USF announced in May it was eliminating 450 staff and nontenured faculty jobs, from a total of 13,250 across the university. All but 70 of those positions were already empty.

As positions remain unfilled, class sizes will balloon, Wilcox said. "We're not able to deliver as many classes as we have in the past. The array of classes is limited. Also, the number of sections is limited. That's going to have an impact on student retention rates ... and their progress toward a degree."

Fewer support staff are available for a range of tasks, from helping students with financial aid to maintaining the USF grounds. The university is also deferring building maintenance and equipment purchases. It's limiting enrollment to deal with the strain. Only five freshmen were admitted for the spring semester.

At other universities, the cuts were more severe. The University of Florida eliminated hundreds of open positions, and 20 faculty and 118 staff workers lost their jobs. The university combined its botany and zoology departments and sociology and criminology departments. It terminated two language programs.

Florida State University shut down its National High Magnet Field Laboratory for two months to save electricity.

Florida International University made plans to close at least six research centers and cut funding for five more.

The University of Central Florida eliminated about 200 open faculty and staff positions.

"Faculty and staff are really working their rear ends off to make this work," said UCF Provost Hickey. "Some faculty are taking on heavier teaching loads, heavier advising loads."

But they can only do this for so long before becoming exhausted, Hickey said. Already, "We've lost faculty to other universities, lost faculty with sizeable grants. ... My fear is that we'd be losing a lot more if they could sell their houses."

Enrollment Rising At HCC

While the universities are limiting enrollment to blunt the effect of cuts, the community colleges are keeping their doors open, and being cut, too.

Hillsborough Community College lost $2.5 million this week, 4 percent of its budget, in the face of a 15 percent increase in enrollment over last year at this time, said spokeswoman Ashley Carl.

With these cuts, the only way to balance the college's budget is to increase tuition. "People are making the effort to come back to college and retrain themselves, while the state isn't dealing with the fundamental problems of its budget," she said. "We shouldn't balance the state's budget on these students' backs."

USF is also increasing tuition, with plans to use the money to replenish the faculty.

Though USF is limiting enrollment now, over the past eight years the number of students has gone up 31 percent, to 46,000, Wilcox said. The number of degrees awarded is up 46 percent, to nearly 10,000.

"No one in our community remains untouched by the positive impact of USF," from public schools to community health care providers, he said.

"But we can't continue that sort of growth without some resources. ... We've been stretched at the seams for so very long with no new resources for faculty."