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UF Pres hammers BOG members with funding frustrations



University of Florida President Bernie Machen drew a few muffled chuckles from attendees of the Board of Governors meeting on Wednesday when he quite candidly told the board just how badly the university needs more money. 

"This is not a secret. It's not complicated," Machen told the board, which oversees Florida's public universities. "If you want us to move up in the ranks, we need to hire more world-class faculty... It takes dollars."

Machen and leaders of the 10 other public state schools were asked to present multi-year work plans to the board, including specific goals and ways to reach them. It was the second year the board asked for such reports.

Machen began his presentation by outlining the school's steadily improving graduation rate. He also outlined UF's new Innovation Academy initiative, which will admit 2,000 students to a new spring- and summer-only session and stressed the effort to expand the school's distance learning program

But when it came time for board members to discuss the university's plan, Machen broke from his prepared statements and bluntly told the board that per-year 15 percent tuition increases -- okayed for 11 universities by the legislature in 2009 -- wouldn't cut it.

"If you really are serious about us moving up in the national ranks, we need to take a quantum jump in resources," Machen said, in response to questions about how to ensure UF's status as a national top-tier university . "Our tuition, if it were at the national average, would provide us $100 million more in revenue, roughly speaking."

Florida's universities rank 48th in the country in terms of tuition rates. Meanwhile, the schools' student-faculty ratio remains remarkably high.

This year, the Legislature approved an 8-percent hike in the schools' base tuition, and during the two-day Board of Governors meeting that began today, each public university will ask the board to approve an additional 7-percent tuition differential hike.

Even that won't be enough, if you ask Machen, because funding from the state continues to erode -- this year by $26 million at UF alone.

"We’re using the 15 percent to keep from sinking," Machen said.

Board member Norman Tripp told Machen he feared that relying on tuition increases to fill the hole could "just let the legislature off the hook."

"How do we come to an agreement with the Legislature while we're taking this revenue stream we clearly need?," Tripp asked. "Do you worry about that?"

Said Machen: "Only every other day."

The universities will continue to present their work plans for the duration of today's meeting. Tomorrow, each of the board's committees will meet before the full board meeting.

[Last modified: Wednesday, June 22, 2011 2:11pm]


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