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Filling big shoes: A conversation with Bob Boyd, ICUF’s new president

“ICUF is private schools in the public service.”

Bob Boyd admits he has some “big shoes to fill.”

Dr. Ed Moore, the longtime president of Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida, announced his retirement in July. Boyd, who’s been the association’s general counsel will take over as president on Sept. 1 after a transition.

We sat down with Boyd last week to talk about the new job. (Questions and answers have been edited for clarity.)

Florida Politics: What is ICUF and what does it do?

Boyd: ICUF has been around since the ’60s, and it’s the 30 independent not-for-profit traditional (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools)-accredited schools in Florida. A lot of our schools are older than the State University System, so we’ve been around. I was their General Counsel going all the way back to ’95, and it’s interesting, because my father was the General Counsel before me. When he passed away in ’97, we named the Florida Resident Access Grant after him … Now it’s changed to EASE, Sen. (Joe) Negron changed it to Effective Access to Student Education.

FP: Why did you leave lawyering to take the job?

Boyd: I became a lawyer in Florida in 1988, so I’ve been doing it for a long time, and I’ve been a lobbyist. When you get to my age, it’s just a great opportunity to do something you love, and I graduated from an ICUF school, Rollins. I teach as an adjunct in business law at Flagler’s Campus at (Tallahassee Community College), and their main award is named after my father. It’s personal for me. It’s a good personal relationship with this organization, and it was just a great opportunity to lead these schools. I care about these schools and their students, and one of the things I’m going to talk about, the goals for our organization, involves helping the students that we educate. I’m thrilled about it.

FP: How are you going to put your mark on the organization?

Boyd: I kind of have it down to two goals. What I like to say is, ICUF is private schools in the public service. We’re part of Florida’s economy. I think our total economic impact, our total budgets in Florida, are more than five billion dollars. These are 30 institutions that employ a lot of folks and help Florida’s economy. But the goal for me, the No. 1 goal, is try to enhance ICUF in the eyes of the Legislature as an asset. You know, the EASE/FRAG award was cut last year by 22 million dollars. Everybody looks at higher ed like they’re holding their hands out and it’s a line item in the budget, but really the EASE is 40,000 students that you’re helping create access for.

The FRAG was passed in 1979, It helped create access for Florida students to get B.A.s in Florida, and it’s a great return on the investment for the State. To go to the University of Florida, there’s a subsidy that the taxpayer foots of about $15,000-$16,000. When you compare that to the EASE, now it’s $2,800, it was $3,500. It’s a great deal for the State, so I’m going to try to change the perception of how we partner with the State.

FP: So, all told, did ICUF have a good or bad 2019 Legislative Session. 

Boyd: Overall? It was OK. On substantive issues, we did fine, and we do have a lot of champions in the Legislature. They like the ideals of using the private sector to achieve higher ed goals in Florida, but we did get cut on the House side in their initial budget, 22 million. Then I think when it went over to the Senate, they saw that money and they needed those dollars for their priorities, and I understand that. The EASE Award has gone up and down over the years. President Negron got it up to $3,500, and with this cut, which was $659 a student, that brought it back down to $2,841.

FP: That’s a significant hit.

Boyd: It was a big hit. I think we were one of the highest cuts in higher ed. I think we were a fallout a little bit of the scrutiny on public higher ed, and what’s happened with UCF. But we realized that we’ve got to demonstrate the benefit to the State for this award. I think in our conversations with leadership so far, we’ll be OK in 2020. They agree why it’s a good thing to fund these, and I think we can get back, but I think it was just the nature of them needing the dollars to do what they wanted to do with their priorities. We kind of got caught off guard, because over the last four, five, six years, we’ve been growing and our growth has been funded, and when you get the cut and then the growth is not funded, it was a big hit. Enrollment is going up, we’re producing more graduates, but then the cut kind of derailed that a little bit. 

FP: Who will advocate for you next Session?

Boyd: We’ve got a really good team that’s been in place for a while, and I’m not going to change that: Stephen Shiver with The Advocacy Group is going to still be leading on our behalf, and then we have Cameron Yarbrough, who works with Ramba Consulting, and also Brewser Brown. Also, I would say 12 or so of our institutions have their own lobbyists. We do a really good job of coordinating with the institutional lobbyists to try to advocate for our issues, and that’s not going to change. I have been lobbying at least since the early ’90s, and I’m going to have to kind of take a step back from that role, but that team is not going to change.

… When I put this new job on my LinkedIn, saying that I’m shifting over to ICUF President, I’ve gotten maybe 200 comments. One was, “Oh, you know, without EASE, I would’ve never been able to choose to go to Flagler and pursue my dream of higher education, because I couldn’t get into the State universities, and you provided access for me.” That’s really rewarding to me, that’s one of the things that I look forward to, helping people walk down that aisle when they graduate. I look forward to continuing to advocate for this organization for that reason.

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