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As enrollment increases, so does need for state funds

For universities to maintain the bare minimum in student accommodations, state funding is as important as electricity, air conditioning and library books.

And with an expected increase in enrollment next year, Florida universities and the Board of Governors are looking to secure $80 million to make way for growth.

There are approximately 287,000 students enrolled throughout the entire State University System, and projections indicate enrollment will increase to approximately 300,000 by next fall.

USF is anticipating the largest increase in enrollment out of all 11 public state universities.

According to Associate Vice President for Government Relations Jeffrey Muir, USF has requested the largest portion of the funds – at $20 million – to maintain the University’s daily operations.

“It’s really sort of our life blood,” Muir said. “It’s not necessarily anything that improves quality. It just keeps us where we need to be in regard to the basic level of support.”

Historically, college students have been supported through a combination of state funding and tuition.

According to Bill Edmonds, spokesman for the BOG, the SUS has only received full funding from the state once in the past five years, making the cost of tuition heavily dependent on the amount of state funding.

Both the state Senate and House of Representatives have not written the full amount of recommended funding into the budget, but Muir said he is “cautiously optimistic” that legislators in Tallahassee will work in more funding for enrollment growth before the legislative session ends on May 5.

Muir said the Legislature anticipated increases in tax receipts, so there should be more money to fund things such as enrollment growth.

On Tuesday, faculty union members called and submitted e-mails to legislators in Tallahassee in what Muir said was one of the largest demonstrations of support from the union in years.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this level of support on key issues from the union,” Muir said.

Roy Weatherford, president of USF’s chapter of the United Faculty of Florida, urged members to contact legislators to appropriate funds for enrollment growth as well as sufficient funds for faculty employees.

“Over the last 10 years, funding for higher education in Florida has declined almost every year compared to national averages,” Weatherford said. “We are now 47th in the nation. Individual faculty cannot change this by themselves. We need collective action to change the attitude of state government. A lot of faculty think they’re in control of their own destiny, but what we can not do as individuals is get money into the system.”

According to Weatherford, University faculty members were included in the same raise package as state employees last year. This year, the BOG assumed the Legislature would fund the same package and did not compensate for the Legislature’s lack of appropriations in the budget to raise faculty wages.

“The most important thing is that the University should not decline in our level of excellence,” Weatherford said. “And if our salaries fall behind, then we will be unable to recruit good faculty. In addition, USF has suffered from required enrollment increases that were not fully founded, so the Union and the administration agreed that we would both make this year a legislative priority.”