Head of USF St. Pete says they are suffering from budget cuts too

02/23/12 Janelle Irwin
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USF St. Petersburg faces a two to three million dollar budget cut under Florida Senator JD Alexander’s budget plan. It pales in comparison to the deep cuts proposed for its parent university in Tampa. But, at a Suncoast Tiger Bay luncheon Thursday afternoon, the Chancellor of USF St. Pete, Margaret Sullivan, said the drop in funding still hurts.

USF St. Pete’s proposed funding cut is pennies compared to the tens of millions Tampa might suffer. According to Sullivan it is still substantial because state funding is used for 87% of operational costs unlike larger schools that get funding from other sources.

“I have landed here in the most extraordinary period of time after more than 40 years in higher education to experience something the likes of which I have never seen. I’m in my fourth year of duty here and each year our budget has dropped by 10%. Ten percent, ten percent, ten percent. And now we face – USF St. Petersburg is facing somewhere between a two and three million dollar cut and now our big sister in Tampa is facing anywhere between a hundred million and a zillion dollars.”

But Governor Rick Scott has said he doesn’t want institutions to use tuition hikes to absorb budgetary shortfalls. Sullivan said after cutting spending at the university, charging more for classes is one of the few remaining answers.

“And what has the solution been? The solution has been, let’s take some more. Let’s take some more and, by the way we can’t increase tuition. It might be hard on the students."

The fear among students and the Governor is that students can’t afford to pay more. Sullivan said they might better absorb the increase if they prioritized spending.

“Last year the USF St. Pete student paid $4,604 to go to school all year. You can go into parking lots and find that the cars of the students are sometimes nicer than the cars of the faculty. That’s my car survey assessment, which I believe to be very valuable.”

Tiger Bay member Peter Schorsch said pending legislation yanking funds from state universities is a good time for USF St. Pete to break off as an independent school.

“When you’ve got a 6500 student institution, you’re not a regional campus anymore. You’re your own campus. You’re bigger than pretty much every Big East college that USF plays basketball against.”

He could be onto something considering adding the state’s 12th independent university is exactly what Senate budget committee chair JD Alexander wants to do with USF’s Polytechnic campus. But Bill Heller, Dean of USF St. Pete’s College of Education, said that has been considered before and right now is just not the right time.

“Those things happen according to time and when the time is right you will know it and the university will know it. Years ago we were asked about that. Our good friend at that time was Senator Sullivan wanted to create a university; a separate. There are benefits from being a part of a system.”

Chancellor Sullivan said those benefits are far reaching. Among other things, she added, students have the opportunity to take classes at other USF campuses if they are not offered at their home campus.

“The first part is academic. The second part, of course, is we do not have NCAA sports. So, we now have students that can go participate in Bulls games and those types of things. So, the second thing is sports. The third reason, of course, is we can share some costs as part of a system.”

Three amendments by Tampa Senator Jim Norman, a Republican, restored much of USF Tampa’s funding cuts.

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