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Scott signs ‘one of best’ budgets

Gov. Rick Scott signed into law the 2013-14 state appropriations bill Monday, restoring more than $45 million in previous cuts to the USF System and bringing to end a legislative session that USF Provost Ralph Wilcox called “one of the best in the past six years.”

The governor vetoed the 3 percent base tuition increases included in the bill by the Legislature, and USF has stated it will not seek an increase in differential tuition, which it has the authority to increase by up to 15 percent each year.

Wilcox said that at the beginning of the legislative session, state university presidents told the state Legislature they would not request an increase in tuition if the Legislature restored the $300 million cut from the State University System last year and allocated additional funds for the Board of Governors to distribute based on performance metrics.

Wilcox said USF hopes to keep tuition as affordable as possible without diminishing the quality of education offered.

“If we never had to increase tuition again, I would be quite happy,” he said. “However, what we realize is that covering the cost of a world-class education continues to grow, and if students are going to continue to bear an added burden, and I’m not a proponent of that, then the state really needs to pick up its share.”

This year’s budget, he said, was a step in the right direction.

“As we’ve said before, our greatest asset at the university is our intellectual talent,” he said. “As resources become tighter and tighter, that becomes more of a challenge. I am hopeful that this is an end to recent history of diminishing public investment in higher education in the state of Florida.”

Also included in the budget was more than $40 million in capital funds for projects, including the Heart Health Institute, College of Business at the St. Petersburg campus and part of the $12.5 million owed to USF for the completion of the Interdisciplinary Sciences building.

“Last year, for the first time in a long time, we didn’t have a new building open on campus,” Wilcox said. “That will change.”

Wilcox also said he believes USF is likely to earn some of the additional performance-based funds, for which metrics have yet to be determined by the Board of Governors. Wilcox said one criterion that may be included is job placement, and USF has an advantage in that metric as the second highest generator of STEM degrees in the state. Other metrics that have been discussed include graduation rates, retention rates and research status.

“I think we’re very well-positioned to earn a portion of this funding that’s out there,” Wilcox said.Board of Trustees workgroups will meet today to discuss the tuition proposals and budget.