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Funding issues loom for state universities

Florida State University

The 2013 session produced landmark legislation for Florida State and University of Florida, as lawmakers and the governor signed off on a bill creating preeminent universities.

FSU and UF are on track to receive an additional $15 million for five consecutive years as each pursues its goal of climbing higher in the national rankings.

It’s very possible, however, that during the next two months the Legislature will remake the landscape for higher education in far more dramatic ways than they did one year ago.

At stake, among other high-interest items to university administrators, is a major switch to performance-based funding for part of each institution’s appropriations. It has been adopted by the Board of Governors, which oversees Florida’s 12 public universities, and has drawn wide support from Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford. Universities that meet certain standards for graduation and retention rates, for example, will be rewarded. Likewise, the three worst-performing institutions will lose funding.

As it stands, University of West Florida, Florida Atlantic and New College will see a reduction to their base funding as a result of their scores on the 10-metric system established by BOG.

Lawmakers also are expected to revamp the law on differential tuition, changing the formula for calculating Florida College Prepaid Program rates and lowering the amount that universities can request for increasing tuition in a given year.

While no one expects any university will ask to increase tuition this year, with Gov. Rick Scott adamantly opposed to tuition hikes, the proposed change in differential tuition will have a ripple effect for the state-run Prepaid program. By statute, it is required to raise the rates it charges Florida families by 15 percent each year, even last year when tuition rates did not go up beyond the 1.7 percent cost of living.

One bill that has already moved out of the Senate Higher Education Appropriations Committee, SB 732, would change the formula for calculating Prepaid rates to prevent what happened last year.

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