Before any bills were filed or votes cast, before the negotiating and budget-hammering and hanky-dropping, a group of university presidents and students came together at the Capitol with a simple message for the Legislature: Prioritize higher education, invest in the future of our state, aim higher.
It represented a show of unity from the State University System stronger than ever before. And it paid off. We are now celebrating one of the system's most successful legislative sessions ever.
For the first time in seven years, our universities did not see their budgets cut. Instead, the House and Senate — under the leadership of Speaker Will Weatherford and President Don Gaetz — restored the $300 million cut from the system last year and added nearly the same amount on top of that for a variety of initiatives. This is a welcome change that we hope signals the state's long-term reinvestment in higher education, particularly following years in which students have shouldered more and more of the costs.
But the budget isn't the only cause for celebration. On top of the investments made to higher education this year, legislators and Gov. Rick Scott worked with the Board of Governors and university leaders to identify important enhancements that will foster the system's movement into national prominence.
Among them: a path for pre-eminent universities to achieve national excellence, the creation of the state's first fully online degree institute, and groundwork laid for performance-based funding — a longtime priority of the Board of Governors.
Here in Tampa Bay, the University of South Florida System received a variety of important investments, including $12.5 million for the USF Heart Institute, $5 million for USF St. Petersburg's College of Business, $3.5 million for the completion of USF Tampa's Interdisciplinary Sciences building and $2 million for USF Sarasota-Manatee to develop and enhance critical STEM initiatives.
The Legislature also asked USF to develop a plan with the Board of Governors for a new Florida Center for Cyber Security.
We are gratified that the Legislature made these kinds of investments in the university system and that the governor supported and approved them during his thorough review of the state budget.
As we move forward and begin to realize those returns, it's important we remember how we got here: united in a shared belief that a strong, cohesive system of higher education pays off for us all.
Frank T. Brogan is chancellor of the State University System of Florida.