In a stunning reversal of what was previously voted on and accepted, the Florida state legislature changed the guidelines for what is a “preeminent university” on Friday night, and possibly shut USF out of over $10 million in funding.
The change in legislative language via public hearing altered one of the twelve standards regarding the graduation rate for incoming freshmen. The old standard was a 70% graduation rate in six years, and though USF stands currently at 67%, the class that just graduated yesterday would have put it over 70%.
The legislature decided to amplify the need for students to graduate in four years, so both the Florida House and Senate voted earlier this session to change it to a 50% graduation in a four-year cycle. But under cover of “Friday at 4:45pm” and in a state where the legislative session can only last 60 days by law, the Senate yesterday changed the standard to 60% via a “conforming bill.”
USF currently stands at 54%, and would be the only school affected by the change.
To be a “preeminent” school, institutions must meet 11 of 12 benchmarks that include doctoral degrees awarded, GPA and SAT scores for incoming freshmen, and national academy memberships. To be “emerging preeminent” they must meet six. Among the current standards USF leads all state schools in patents awarded with 314, and is second in total research dollars at $449 million, dwarfing third-place FSU by over $200 million.
One of the standards is a $500 million endowment, and despite USF having the third-largest endowment of any school in America founded since 1900, it falls short at $295 million. The total institutional endowment is listed by USF at $417 million, but not all is countable by the state standard.
Since the Tampa campus can’t realistically meet the endowment standard of Florida and FSU, two schools founded over 100 years before USF, they have to be perfect in all other areas. Now the Florida State Senate, on a Friday afternoon and without a vote using a “conforming” bill that can’t be amended, arbitrarily moved one of the goalposts to keep USF from the funding which they would have been entitled.
This is a lot of legislative minutia, but the tl;dr is USF got screwed out of a ton of money last night, as well as “preeminent” status, in a legislative move that will guarantee even more money for UF and FSU.
“This attack on our university and community is unprecedented,” USF grad and Tampa Chamber of Commerce Chairman Mike Griffin said. “These late hour deals fly in the face of transparency and our community is adversely impacted as a result.”
So what can you do? Fight back right now! Contact your state senator and state representative! The vote on the budget is taking place on Monday, and there’s still a chance for the legislature to alter their rules and make this change to the previous standard that both houses approved.
Here’s how you can contact your local state representative and state senator and let them know that you’re a USF student or graduate, that you vote, and you don’t appreciate your degree being devalued by the state to protect a cabal of FSU legislators fighting for extra funding for a school that does far less research and has much less of an impact than USF.
Since its inception, USF has always had to fight these battles against protected inherited interests. And the stories of USF being pushed aside by those with loyalties to Gainesville and Tallahassee’s are prolific. But of all of the times USF has been screwed, this might be the most egregious.
No. More. USF is doing more good for the world, and needs to be recognized for it by the budget of the state. It’s earned it. And it needs all of her alumni and students to stand for what she deserves.