A recent editorial in the Oracle claimed that somehow Performance-Based Funding is STEM-centric; however, this assertion is ill-grounded. Rather, eight out of the 10 measures against which Florida’s public universities are judged, apply to all colleges, departments and disciplines and align with USF’s long-held priority for Student Success.
After all, which college, department or discipline at USF wouldn’t want to be rewarded for greater student diversity, retaining more students from year to year, graduating more students on a timely path (within 6 years) without them having to pay double the tuition (a state-mandated surcharge that students across Florida pay once they exceed 110 percent of the credits needed to graduate), or for more students progressing to graduate, medical and law school, or being hired into high skilled, high paid jobs?
Yes, it is true that universities are rewarded for graduating more undergraduate and graduate students in state-determined “areas of strategic emphasis,” but these include accounting, education, globalization and health, in addition to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Surely, without addressing these priorities, we would be doing a disservice to our students, their families, the Florida taxpayer and the communities we serve.
It should also be pointed out that USF is a comprehensive, top-tier research university committed to providing a world-class education and generating high-impact research, scholarly and creative activity across all colleges.
USF’s curriculum has not changed in response to (Performance-Based Funding), and a robust liberal arts education remains at the very heart of our undergraduate education.
This is important, for while specialized knowledge and skills are essential for careers in accounting, dance, engineering and nursing, for example, many employers (and graduate school admissions committees) tell us that it’s the fundamental, yet transferable, knowledge, aptitudes and competencies that they value the most.
Over the past three years, USF’s Tampa campus has earned $35.2 million in new (Performance-Based Funding) (with a total of $40 million for the USF System).
These funds have been thoughtfully and strategically invested in areas of the university that promise sustained earnings with actions reported publicly to the Student Senate, Faculty Senate, the USF Board of Trustees and the Florida Board of Governors.
To suggest otherwise is simply not true.
Moreover, the university cannot arbitrarily redirect funds dedicated to enhancing campus life and the residential student experience, or for the construction of a new “academic home” for students in the Morsani College of Medicine.
Florida laws carefully stipulate how certain public sources of funding can be spent on a university campus, and USF leadership works tirelessly to ensure that all resources are invested in ways that are aligned with our strategic goals — the most important of which is Student Success.
I applaud the notion of enlightening our campus community on the importance of performance-based funding and its uses, but it must be done accurately. Indeed, (Performance-Based Funding) is representative of a new paradigm for the State University System — one that requires us to think differently and adapt to high expectations at the top levels of our state leadership.
But this change only enhances the educational mission that USF has held dear since its inception 60 years ago: to provide high-quality higher education for the next generation of globally engaged, thoughtful and productive leaders.
We embrace and appreciate this model, and we look forward to additional performance gains and strategic investments that will benefit the tens of thousands of students who entrust us with their futures.
Dr. Ralph C. Wilcox is Provost & Executive Vice President at the University of South Florida.