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Florida colleges liking what they see from proposed funding increase

4:23 PM, Mar 4, 2013   |    comments
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (news-press.com) -- Money can't cure all ills, but more of it can stave off academic atrophy.

FGCU and Edison State College, the region's two public institutions of higher learning, are hopeful that rosier state budget projections will ease five consecutive years of program and personnel cutbacks.

Gov. Rick Scott proposed an increase of $74.4 million for Florida's 28 community and state colleges, and an additional $393.3 million for 12 state universities. The higher education increases would be part of a year-over-year state budget increase of $4 billion. Area education leaders, however, aren't counting their eggs just yet.

"There are so many competing interests," said Edison State President Jeff Allbritten. "I'm just hoping we can hold our own."

FGCU President Wilson Bradshaw and his peers in the State University System have been touting education's significant bang for its buck.

"We've always had those competing interests, in good times and in bad," Bradshaw said. "I don't think anyone will argue that an investment in education in this state is a good investment."

While legislators will deliberate on many pressing K-12 education bills, lawmakers proposed few measures directed at the State College System or State University System.

Bradshaw remains concerned with several developments in Tallahassee, including the introduction of a bill that guarantee in-state undergraduates would not see a tuition increase as they move from their freshmen year to graduation, so long as they complete a bachelor's degree within four years.

Florida also wants to continue adding performance-based funding into higher education, a move Bradshaw fully supports. Lawmakers could approve a plan that rewards institutions that see a large proportion of graduates not only find employment, but find high-paying jobs.

"I am sensing there is cautious optimism this session," Bradshaw said. "We still have a lot of hard work to do as a system and at Florida Gulf Coast University. We have to roll up our sleeves and get to work."

Community and state colleges could benefit from incentives targeting workforce education, which cuts to the core of Edison State's programs. Allbritten is asking for additional funds to enhance student services, but is more concerned with a state report showing Edison as No. 27 in per-student funding. That means Edison is handed less money to teach its students the same course material.

"I'd like to not be second to the bottom among the 28 institutions," Allbritten said. "All we ask is to treat us the same as everyone else. Get us to the middle."

Edison calculated the shortfall at $33.9 million during the past six years.

One policy issue Edison will follow is a movement to change developmental education at the college level, or eliminate it altogether. As many as two-thirds of new Edison students must take remedial courses after earning sub-par math or reading scores on placement exams.

"We're concerned it may close the door because so many students come in unprepared for college," said Matt Holliday, Edison's director of government relations.

Like it has for years, Hodges University is keeping an eye on the Florida Resident Access Grant, a scholarship for undergraduates attending a private institution in Florida. The current grant amount is $2,150. Scott is requesting the same amount of money for FRAG, $79 million, for 2013-14.

Bradshaw already has visited Tallahassee several times in recent months, and once the legislative session begins Tuesday, he expects legislators will have questions and his colleagues in higher education will need support.

"I'm on call at any time," Bradshaw said.

by Dave Breitenstein, news-press.com

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