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New FSU president wants more freedom to allocate additional revenue

Florida State University's new president says his school can help boost the state's economy, but to do it FSU needs the freedom to use its resources as it sees best.

Just a month into his new job, Eric Barron said Thursday he's not looking to "jump out there and say, 'Here's what we've got to do' without knowing a lot more."

But Barron does talk of strategies that he said worked at Penn State and the University of Texas, two schools where he served as a dean.

Take tuition.

It can go up without hurting admissions, Barron told the St. Petersburg Times editorial board.

To get to the national average, FSU's tuition for Florida residents would have to rise from $4,566 to $7,020 a year.

"I don't think that being at the national average in tuition for a nationally ranked program would scare away a lot of people," he said.

It didn't at Penn State, where he said the university raised tuition consistently over the years and invested the increased revenue in faculty pay, new programs and other initiatives to enhance the quality of the university. Penn State stopped the increases once it approached being the most expensive public university in the country, he said.

To a point, Barron's thoughts on tuition are in line with those of many officials and university administrators around the state. Florida's tuition is the second lowest in the nation, and legislators have begun allowing the state's 11 public universities to charge a "differential" tuition on top of the state's base tuition.

Together, those two rates can increase tuition by up to 15 percent a year until Florida's tuition reaches the national average.

But Barron also advocates giving universities more discretion in how they spend enhanced tuition revenues.

The law allowing universities to raise differential tuition requires that the new revenue be used to improve undergraduate education and financial aid.

Barron said he would like to have the leeway to use additional revenue to improve other university programs, as well, such as research into materials science or other cutting-edge technologies that can spin off new jobs. Simply spending it to produce more undergraduates majoring in physics, he said, will not yield the same economic gains.

"I worry most when they say yes, you can raise your tuition, but you must spend it on this," he said.

Barron also said he sees "huge potential" to raise more money and philanthropic gifts from FSU's 283,000 alumni.

FSU's endowment now stands at $446.8 million, but trustees talk of Barron raising an additional $1 billion in coming years. To do it, Barron is thinking of his previous schools again.

At Texas, he said, there's one employee "on the road" raising money for every 3,800 alumni. Penn State has one employee for every 5,200 alumni.

At FSU, the ratio is one for every 14,000 alumni. The College of Arts and Sciences has just two such fundraisers for 60,000 alums.

"We're not even saying hello," Barron said.

New FSU president wants more freedom to allocate additional revenue 03/11/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 11, 2010 11:29pm]
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