Sunday, February 25, 2018
Education

Council of 100 tells Gov. Rick Scott to veto USF Poly bill

The Florida Council of 100 says the state cannot afford another university in a year when the existing 11 are having to endure $300 million in budget cuts.

That was just one argument of many in a letter sent to Gov. Rick Scott Friday, urging him to veto SB 1994, which would immediately create Florida Polytechnic.

"You have repeatedly and correctly stated that the decision to invest taxpayer dollars should be based on an objective analysis of the return on investment," wrote council president Steven Halverson. "Plainly, the case for Florida Polytechnic University has not been made."

The council advises the governor on key state issues from a business perspective. Scott has until next Saturday to make a decision.

The bill, championed by Senate budget chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, in his final Legislative session, would create the university out of USF's branch campus in Lakeland — without students, buildings or accreditation. It short-cuts a decision already made by the Board of Governors last year to allow the campus to split off only after meeting certain benchmarks, including those basic ingredients.

The letter from the council came a day after Alexander made his own pitch to Scott about the university, saying he's not sure the state can afford not to have it.

The council didn't exactly see his point. Among the concerns, the state is already having trouble paying for maintenance on existing university buildings. The fund that pays for those things is operating at a deficit.

Building a new university focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs is "the slowest and most expensive way to produce more STEM graduates in the state," the letter states.

While the new Poly plan projects growing to a 5,750 STEM enrollment in the next 14 years, continual budget cuts to existing universities are forcing them to cut their own STEM programs.

Just this week, students at the University of Florida protested a proposal to eliminate the school's computer and information science and engineering program due to budget cuts. UF's engineering dean, Cammy Abernathy, said the program will merge with an existing engineering program as part of the department's need to cut $4 million this year. That's on top of $15 million in recurring and nonrecurring money that one department has had to cut since 2007.

As the council sees it, "There's no evidence that a new state university is even needed."

"The Council of 100 wholeheartedly supports making our state university system the best in the country," Halverson wrote. "Deciding where and how to invest scarce resources to achieve that objective should be the product of a fact-based, thorough analysis of the return on investment. That analysis hasn't been done, and until it is, we urge you to guard the system of accountability that the BOG process represents and veto SB 1994."

The council sent another letter asking Scott to sign a bill allowing top universities to charge higher tuition after meeting certain benchmarks. Right now only UF and Florida State University meet the criteria.

Scott hasn't said what he'll do there either. He just received the bill Friday and has 15 days to act.

Kim Wilmath can be reached at [email protected]

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