A bill that gained much support in the House and Senate was signed into effect by Gov. Rick Scott yesterday and will allow the University of Florida and Florida State University to exist as the state’s preeminent universities — or universities that will be eligible for additional funding to become nationally prominent.
The bill, SB 1076, proposed by Sen. John Legg (R-17), among other things defines the criteria for “preeminence” by creating 12 metrics by which universities are evaluated including having a freshman retention rate of 90 percent, a six-year graduation rate above 70 percent, total research expenditures exceeding $200 million, a ranking within the Top 100 nationally for research expenditures and $500 million or more in endowments.
Though UF and FSU were the only state institutions to meet the required 11 out of 12 metrics necessary to qualify for a preeminence status this time, USF Assistant Vice President and Director for Governmental Relations Mark Walsh said in an email statement sent from Media and Public Affairs Coordinator Adam Freeman that USF may be eligible in future years.
“As one component of the bill, the state sets some academic and research excellence standards that can be used to measure and designate universities as preeminent both now and in the future,” he said. “…USF is proud to be one of only a few state universities that already meets several of the 12 benchmarks. We will continue to follow our strategic plan goals and improve on the benchmarks with the goal of being designated as a preeminent state research university by the Board of Governors under the bill’s provisions in the near future.”
According to a press release from the Florida Board of Governors, UF will receive funding “to develop an institute of fully online baccalaureate degree programs at a lower cost for Florida residents than that of traditional universities” and FSU will receive additional funding to “recruit National Academy Members, establish a master’s degree in cloud virtualization, and institute an entrepreneurs-in-residence program on its campus.”
While USF is ranked among the Top 50 research universities nationally, among the Top 25 for online education, and has received more than $400 million in research funds and received 98 patents in just the last fiscal year, the university fell short in some criteria.
At a recent Board of Trustees workgroup meeting, USF Foundation CEO Joel Momberg said as of the end of June 2012, USF, founded in 1958, had $334.1 million in endowments — above all other state universities other than FSU, founded in 1851, which had $678.7 million in endowments and UF, founded in 1853, which had $1.26 billion in endowments.
“We’re a little bit younger than the University of Florida and Florida State,” he said. “ …Endowments, as you know, do not happen over night. This takes history, it takes work and we’ve done a terrific job in growing our endowment.”
Momberg said it would take a few years for USF to reach the $500 million endowment mark.
USF also currently has a six-year graduation rate of 52 percent, though UF has an 84.5 percent rate and FSU has a 74 percent rate. USF has a freshman retention rate of 86 percent, while FSU has a 92 percent retention rate and UF has a 96 percent retention rate.
“I firmly believe that a rising tide lifts all boats,” State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan said in the press release. “The higher education enhancements included in this landmark legislation will not only benefit our universities and our students, but will provide a good return on investment for all the people of Florida.”
In the past year, USF has created several campaigns via the Office of Student Success and has instituted new policies targeted at improving the graduation and retention rates, and at a recent Faculty Senate USF President Judy Genshaft said USF will continue to strive for preeminence.
“We have to fight very hard over issues of preeminience in this preeminence war,” she said.