Press Release for Monday, October 13, 2003

Florida University Presidents Join Forces to Launch Campaign for Higher Education Funding


CONTACT AMY PARMELEE
OFFICE OF NEWS&PUBLICATIONS
(904) 620-2140


The presidents of Florida's public universities have joined forces to launch a campaign urging the state Legislature to adequately fund higher education.

John Hitt, president of the University of Central Florida and chairman of the State University Presidents Association, launched the campaign, "Quality and Access For Florida's Public Universities," at a news conference today. He was joined by Florida State University President T.K. Wetherell, Florida & President Fred Gainous, Florida Gulf Coast University President William Merwin and other university officials.

"Inadequate state funding has placed an unfair burden on Florida's public universities," Hitt said. "We have been hit with budget cuts at a time when many of our universities are experiencing record high enrollments. In short, we have been asked to do more with less. As tuition increases and general revenue decreases, we are equally concerned that students also are paying more and getting less."

The "&" campaign is designed to raise awareness about the economic hardships facing the universities. Last spring, the Legislature cut funding for the 11 state universities by $40 million and failed to provide any funding for new students. About 16,400 students in the university system remain unfunded.

The funding per student for 2003-04 is 16 percent lower than it was four years ago. The cuts could affect both the quality of education students receive and their access to state universities.

"Florida's students deserve adequate funding so they can be educated in a quality environment," said Florida State University President T.K. Wetherell. "We know that the Legislature has funds put away for a rainy day. Our campuses are now experiencing their share of rainy days, and the state's continuing failure to fund higher education means worse storms are brewing."

The cuts mean larger class sizes, fewer course offerings, and fewer faculty and staff available to serve students. Adequate funding will help Florida retain its best and brightest students instead of losing them to out-of-state schools.

As part of the campaign, university presidents are urging those who support higher education to talk to their legislators and to mobilize networks of supporters to help raise awareness about the value of Florida's public universities to the state's economy.

Studies show that every taxpayer dollar invested in higher education yields a return of $9.72 to Florida's economy. Florida Trend business magazine reported that a highly trained work force is the single most important high-tech commodity required for the state's economy.

"Florida's universities are where technology and economic development begin," Wetherell said. Florida has a lower than average unemployment rate and also leads the nation in job creation.

But, at 42nd in the nation, Florida lags behind in the number of baccalaureates earned by students. Two independent groups, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Board of Education, have concluded that Florida must substantially increase the production of baccalaureates.

"The state university system is not only Florida's best educational value, but it is also a most critical element in the state's economic development, technology base and total quality of life," Hitt said. "Everything the universities do is based on providing the citizens of this state access to the highest quality education. We must have adequate state funding to support this mission."

-UNF-

Complete information about the initiative can be found at www.qualityandaccess.org. For information specifically about the University of North Florida, contact the Office of News&Publications at (904) 620-2140