Facing a proposed ten percent budget cut, Florida’s 12 state universities and their leaders are pledging to soften that blow as much as possible for students.
Rep. Larry Ahern, who chairs the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, says the 10 percent target reductions for each school are aimed at a projected $1.7 billion shortfall.
“Agencies are precluded from submitting across-the-board reductions,” said Ahern. “So what you will be listening for today is how each of these entities would make specific decisions to meet the target.”
Florida University System Chancellor Marshall Criser laid out a preliminary blueprint, which involves cutting jobs, primarily from administration and support services, delaying programs and expansions, and some old-fashioned hunkering down.
“This is simply a process of 12 institutions in the state office working together,” Criser said. “Finding places where we can accomplish the same value for our students and at the same time save money, which we are able to re-invest in student success.”
Similar reductions in fiscal year 2016 totaled about $85 million in savings. Crisler’s expectations for the current fiscal year is to surpass that figure.
Also appearing before the subcommittee was Martha Saunders, the new President of the University of West Florida, which is facing a $10 million reduction. When approaching possible cuts, she said the school’s budget is analyzed based on functional categories, in priority order.
“We cut general and academic administration first,” Saunders said. “That is followed by computing support, followed by institutes and research centers, followed by student service support and administration; direct instruction, and then physical plant and security.”
After realizing a number of efficiencies in recent years, Saunders believes that UWF resources have been re-directed toward the right goals. That includes eliminating nine programs and 63 specializations. Then she read a list of remaining programs that would feel the ten percent blade.
“We will have fewer staff to the increased needs of the student body,” said Saunders. “Potential for limited hours of access to vital support services like the library. From our institutes and research centers, reduced opportunities to engage in community and regional partnerships; diminished opportunities to support economic growth.”
Other possible changes: fewer course offerings, resulting in delayed graduations; the inability to recruit and retain qualified faculty, larger class sizes on-campus and limited access to programs, courses and services delivered off-campus.
At the start of her testimony, Saunders said a number of students from Alabama attend UWF. That prompted Rep. Julio Gonzalez to ask whether the university ought to seek funding from Alabama.
“[I] never thought about going to the Alabama Legislature,” Saunders chuckled. “We could do that.”