The Florida Board of Governors, which oversees all public universities, is requesting an additional $150 million from the Legislature to fund efforts to improve three Florida universities’ national rankings.
The request is part of the board’s $3.57 billion budget request for the next fiscal year submitted to House lawmakers. If approved, the University of Florida, Florida State University and the University of South Florida would each receive $50 million.
The schools would use the $150 million to hire and retain faculty; improve buildings and other infrastructure; pay for research and development; and help fund support for student transfers. The money would be disbursed through the Florida Preeminence Program, started in 2013 by the Legislature to reward high-achieving universities based on 12 metrics.
FIU does not qualify for program
Although Miami-based Florida International University is set to receive funds through other means, it is not included in this specific program because the state considers it “emerging preeminent,” as opposed to “preeminent,” said FIU spokeswoman Maydel Santana.
To be considered preeminent, a university must meet 11 of 12 metrics outlined by the Board of Governors; to be considered emerging preeminent, the university must meet six out of 12.
Two universities statewide are emerging preeminent — FIU and the University of Central Florida in Orlando. But Santana believes FIU, which fulfilled nine of the 12 metrics in September, will soon rise to preeminent status.
“Our goal is to be preeminent by 2025, assuming metrics are not changed again,” Santana said.
High aspirations for UF, FSU and USF
In the latest national rankings from U.S. News & World Report, UF was ranked No. 5, FSU No. 19 and USF No. 46 out of national public universities. The three schools improved markedly since 2014.
The board’s goal has been to place FSU into the Top 10 and USF into the Top 25, according to documents submitted to a House appropriations subcommittee.
The University of Florida’s climb in the rankings might be attributed to previous budget increases. UF hired 571 new faculty members in 2019, and 395 in 2020, to reduce the university’s student-to-faculty ratio.
The board’s total budget request also includes $280 million for its performance-based funding program, which splits money among Florida’s 12 public universities based on 10 metrics. Those criteria include four-year graduation rate and percent of students retained after two years with a GPA over 2.0.
Concerns raised over FAMU funding
Funding three preeminent universities could leave other universities underfunded, said Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, the minority ranking member of the House subcommittee that would review the request.
“We have places like FAMU that get the short end of the stick,” Thompson said.
Florida A&M University, the highest ranked public HBCU in U.S. News & World Report’s list, has received $56.7 million since the program began eight years ago. In three of the years, it received no funding.
However, the university’s enrollment is under 10,000, while the three preeminent universities’ average enrollment is almost 45,000. FAMU’s smaller size comes with a smaller budget, and the maximum performance-based funding allocation is 10% of a university’s budget.
Thompson said it is too early for her to predict whether the Legislature will approve the funding.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Miami Herald reporter Jimena Tavel contributed information to the story.