Florida House and Senate leaders raced against the clock Monday night to reach a compromise on the state’s budget, which has placed cuts to USF at the center of heated debates.
Of the $300 million in cuts applied to the State University System (SUS), the USF system would lose more than $46 million in funding in the finalized plan, which will be voted on Friday and sent to Gov. Rick Scott later this week for approval.
USF Tampa, which was initially hit with $79 million in proposed budget cuts by the Senate, will now lose $36.9 million, or 21 percent of its base budget. However, if USF were to raise tuition by 15 percent, an increase allowed by the Legislature last year, the total impact of the cuts would result in an 11 percent loss of USF’s base budget.
USF St. Petersburg would lose $5.1 million, or 25 percent of its base budget, and USF Sarasota-Manatee $2.99 million – 27 percent of its base budget. While no funding was appropriated for USF Polytechnic, the campus would convert to an independent Florida Polytechnic University if the bill is approved, which the House budget states would lose 19 percent of the funding, or $5.2 million.
Students at USF Polytechnic would be allowed to complete their USF degree at the existing campus, faculty would be returned to the USF System along with $6 million in funding originally cut from the College of Pharmacy would be returned to the USF System. All Polytechnic transition costs are expected to be funded by the state, said USF President Judy Genshaft.
“My concern throughout this process has been the treatment of our students, faculty and staff,” Genshaft said in an email sent to faculty Monday. “We fought to ensure that our students would be cared for. I believe today’s agreement does that.”
The Senate Budget Committee is chaired by Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who has long advocated for the creation of Florida Polytechnic University and initially proposed a 58 percent budget cut to the USF System based on a formula that calculated the amount of cash reserves held by the universities. Under the Senate budget, Florida State University, which has the highest cash reserves in the SUS, saw a budget cut of 22.3 percent.
The House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, applied 8.4 percent cuts to all universities – a formula of equal distribution that has traditionally been used.
Alexander and Grimsley settled on a compromise that blends the two formulas.
Though USF’s cuts were calculated based on each branch campus, unlike in previous years when the USF System was calculated as one university, the Tampa campus’s cuts are more in line with other state universities. Now, the University of Florida could see a 14 percent reduction in its base budget and FSU could see a 27 percent reduction. The University of Central Florida, which under the Senate’s proposal had the second highest level of cuts after USF, saw a 24 percent reduction in base budget.
A bill passed in the House of Representatives last week will allow UF and FSU to raise tuition freely at market rate beyond the approved 15 percent, if the governor approves. The total impact of cuts with tuition increases was estimated to be 6 percent for UF and 15 percent for FSU, but the amount of expected tuition increases for each school was not announced.
Though USF was not approved to increase tuition by more than 15 percent, USF Board of Trustees Chairman John Ramil said in an interview with The Oracle that tuition will increase next year by an unspecified amount.
“It’s a challenge, and you got to keep balancing,” he said. “When we look at tuition increases, we not only look at what we need and what we want to deliver to students, but you look at what are others in the state
charging and what are others nationally charging. The good news is that our tuition, compared to national tuition, is very, very low. It’s a good value for our students. At the same time, when you raise tuition, it’s a burden.”
Mark Walsh, USF director of Governmental Affairs, said in an email to The Oracle that the method the House and Senate used to alter the cuts was fair.
“Personally, I am very pleased with the outcome,” he said. “The legislative process is about compromise and trying to find common ground. Tonight, the House and Senate agreed that USF’s students, USF’s employees and USF’s College of Pharmacy are important and should be protected, and that any cuts to USF should be fair, transparent and equitable. That’s exactly what we asked for, and that’s what our legislators delivered.”