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Graham's university spending figures miss mark, his point doesn't

The statement

"Since 1990, in inflation-adjusted dollars, per-student funding of the (Florida) state university system from general revenue has dropped by about $4,000."

Bob Graham, former governor and former senator, in an op-ed in the April 3 St. Petersburg Times.

The ruling

Graham's numbers came from the Board of Governors, the statewide governing body for the university system.

Kelly Layman, a spokeswoman for the Board of Governors, provided PolitiFact Florida a spreadsheet detailing university funding from the 1990-91 budget to the current 2010-11 budget.

The big takeaway?

The vast majority of dollar-for-dollar increases into the university system are overwhelming the result of increases to student tuition.

In 1990, general tax revenue funded 71 percent of per-student costs while tuition covered 18 percent.

In 2010, taxes funded 49 percent of per-student costs. Tuition covered 40 percent.

In bottom line numbers, taxes funded $5,131 a student in 1990 compared to $5,682 in the current budget. Using the U.S. Department of Labor's online inflation calculator, $5,131 in 1990 dollars is worth $8,688 today.

That's $3,006 less. Short of the "about $4,000" Graham claimed.

We reached Graham to ask him about the difference. Graham told us he calculated the figure a slightly different way. He took the 1990 allocation — $5,131 — and popped it into a compound interest calculator. He factored in 3 percent annual interest growth, and calculated out for 21 years — 1990 to 2011.

The result? $9,626.45. He then subtracted $5,682 (the current funding) to get an inflation-adjusted spending reduction of $3,944.45.

"We should be investing in our students and our universities, and instead we're not," Graham said.

Graham used a compound interest calculator to come to his "$4,000" figure, but that assumes inflation averaged 3 percent per year. According to the Department of Labor, the economy did not grow quite at that rate. That said, he's right that tax dollars are not funding the state university system the way it did two decades ago.

So we rate Graham's statement Mostly True.

Edited for print. For more rulings, go to


Graham's university spending figures miss mark, his point doesn't 04/05/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 6, 2011 4:19pm]
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