Florida schools are decreasing tuition while increasing their national rankings, education officials tout to lawmakers as they ask for increased funding.
State University System Chancellor Marshall Criser and the Board of Governors are requesting budget increases, including an additional $15 million in performance-based funding for the coming fiscal year. In presentations made Wednesday before the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, Criser outlined a $5.5 billion total budget request. Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Suzanne Pridgeon proposed a $3.3 billion operating budget.
The Sunshine State’s public universities have been excelling, Criser said, accentuated by the University of Florida’s ranking this month as a top five public school nationally by U.S. News and World Report. UF jumped nine spots to reach that top five ranking, while Florida State University jumped 21 spots to No. 19 and the University of South Florida jumped 48 spots to No. 46. And the publication ranked Florida’s state higher education system the best in the nation for the fifth consecutive year.
“The reason we have the rankings we have is because we’ve been focused on student outcomes,” Criser told the committee. “We’ve been focused on retaining our students, graduating our students, working with our students to find careers and find the jobs that Florida needs them to fill.”
Performance funding has increased the number of students graduating in four years, Criser noted. Those dollars support career centers, degree programs, financial aid and more.
Universities currently receive $280 million in performance funding. But schools want to increase that to $295 million. Part of that increase is because a 12th school, Florida Polytechnic University, is now eligible.
“This is not going to an institution,” Criser said. “This is going to people, this is going to career centers. This is going to not only faculty, but individuals who support faculty — teaching assistants, graduate assistants, adjuncts and also people who support our research initiatives.”
He noted the national conversation about the rising cost of higher education. The national average undergraduate tuition is $10,659. However, Florida’s average tuition, $6,370, is the second lowest after only Wyoming.
“To me, the Florida story is entirely different,” Criser said. “It’s because our elected officials have invested in our students that we’re able to maintain that.”
Student debt has decreased in Florida, too. The share of undergraduate students without loans has risen from 59% to 70% between the 2015-16 and 2019-20 school years.
Among some of the Board of Governors’ other requests are for $150 million in preeminence funding to be split evenly between UF, FSU and USF, and $22.1 million for system-wide projects, including supporting need-based scholarships for undergraduate students with disabilities.
The DOE operating budget request for 2022-22 is $3.3 billion, up $54.9 million from the current year’s base budget.