Cuts May Trigger Brain Drain

USF Provost Renu Khator
TAMPA -

Florida's universities have the lowest student faculty ratio in the country according to the chancellor. The state schools also have one of the lowest tuition rates in the nation.

The debate can be boiled down to a simple question: Do you prefer smaller classes or lower tuition? When asked to choose, University of South Florida sophomore Chase Hebeler doesn't hesitate.

'Thanks to financial aid and the government, tuition is not so much a problem to the students,' says Hebeler. 'I think the larger classes and what not is definitely more of a problem, less time with the teacher, less focus from the professor.'

Hebeler suggested that Florida universities adopt more demanding admission requirements to slow the flood of students. His friend, junior accounting major, Dane East agreed.

'You've got degree inflation,' says East. 'Bachelor degrees aren't worth as much as they were back then. You basically have to go to graduate school to make real good money.'

Yet, even graduate school in Florida costs less than in most other states. USF Provost Renu Khator says that right now Florida's universities are a bargain for the price.

'It would be a shame if we have to close our doors to students in this global economy where intellect is the asset,' says Khator. 'We are gambling with the future of the state and the nation, frankly speaking, if we do not pay attention to higher education.'

But, the provost is even more worried that the mandated 4 percent budget cuts, coupled with the annual uncertainty of funding, could trigger a brain drain.

'Faculty salaries you know at USF are not very good in the state of Florida are not very good and that means that you may loose the faculty because you do not have resources to put behind faculty,' says Khator. 'If faculty do not have adequate staffing support in order for them to do work, they may decide this is not the state to be in. And if you lose the faculty, then you're going to lose the quality in a university. Because that's what makes quality.'

Khator is spending the next few days pinpointing strategic cuts and ways to improve efficiency.

Across the state, The University of Florida and Central Florida have frozen hiring. Khator says that's one option being looked at for non-critical positions at USF.

State revenue experts will give another budget update August first. Khator hopes it will not trigger the 10 percent budget reduction universities have been told to plan for.

Still, University system chancellor Mark Rosenberg says even if the immediate money problems are fixed, there's nothing to prevent funding from being an issue every year.

'There is no question that the system is at a breaking point,' says Rosenberg. 'We think its very important to move away from the yoyo financial management - up and down - up and down - of the state university system over the last decade.'

State University System documents show legislative funding per student for instruction and research dropped 5 percent between 2001 and 2007.

Meanwhile, the number of students keeps growing. Of course, that could change in 2008. This week the state Board of Governors froze freshman enrollment statewide at current levels because the money isn't there.

To keep growing and guarantee smaller classes and quality faculty, the board says, it needs control of its own purse strings.

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