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Florida's universities exist for a reason: to provide a college education to all students in the state who are academically qualified.

With the economy slumping and universities hurting for dollars, the presidents of the schools say they're on the verge of not being able to fulfill that mission.

The presidents of Florida's 11 public universities on Thursday told House Speaker Marco Rubio that they're turning away academically qualified students because they simply don't have the space. And the undergraduate students already in the system are getting shortchanged, too - because they're in classes far bigger than their peers in other states.

The presidents said $200-million more a year over the next five years would be sufficient to do what the universities are supposed to do. The money could be garnered through some combination of taxpayer dollars and tuition increases.

The presidents and state university system chancellor Mark Rosenberg proposed a compact with the state in which lawmakers would promise to give universities the money for the next few years and more freedom to spend it the way they see fit.

In return, the schools would guarantee benchmarks, such as a certain number of bachelor's degrees granted, or a certain amount of research performed, or a particular national ranking in various categories.

"Other states are rapidly moving ahead of us," Rosenberg told Rubio. "And $200-million a year for five years would start to put us back in the game."

Rubio, R-Miami, and Rep. Joe Pickens, who is the top education budget writer in the House, were receptive to the university proposal but didn't make any commitments.