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‘Universities of Distinction’ funding cut from state budget

The $15 million would have helped up and coming universities climb in national rankings.

Emerging universities in the state took a blow in the fiscal year 2021 budget.

Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed $15 million approved for “Universities of Distinction” to help them continue to grow in stature.

The newly created program was meant to highlight Florida’s non-preeminent universities. Currently only three of Florida’s public universities have achieved that status — the University of Florida, Florida State University and the University of South Florida.

The measure (SB 72) replaces Programs of Excellence and was intended to help younger, up and coming universities climb in national rankings.

The House and Senate agreed on $15 million for the program, but that was before the novel coronavirus took hold in Florida, prompting an eventual shutdown of almost all non-essential commerce in the state.

Closures all but stopped tourism activity, leading to a $1.66 billion budget shortfall and prompting DeSantis to cut more than $1 billion from the proposed $93.2 billion budget, a move he previously referred to as the “veto equivalent of the Red Wedding.

His veto doesn’t cancel the program, but it does leave it unfunded for the upcoming budget year, which begins July 1.

The university vetoes come as state universities are grappling with potential revenue shortfalls of their own.

In April, UCF estimated it will have lost $48.7 million in revenue by August.

While in-person classes are expected to resume in the fall, at least in some form, on-campus enrollment numbers and housing fees are not expected to bounce back to prior levels immediately.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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