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University Performance Funding Moves Forward

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - The House on Wednesday rolled out its version of a highly anticipated performance-funding bill for state universities, a measure that carves out the University of Florida and Florida State University from a formula proposed by the university system's Board of Governors.

The separate measurements for UF and FSU would draw on benchmarks in a law, passed by the Legislature last year, that led to those two schools being designated "pre-eminent universities." The standards for UF and FSU would also essentially be worth twice as much as the standards faced by other universities.

That approach marks a dramatic departure from the proposal by the Board of Governors.

Under the board's plan, every university would be measured against seven common benchmarks, with an eighth based on graduate degrees that would be used for every school except New College. New College would have a different eighth standard because it doesn't offer graduate degrees.

Each of the 12 universities would then also be measured against a benchmark established by the Board of Governors and another selected by the school's trustees.

The House proposal (PCB HEWS 14-02), which was unanimously supported by the Higher Education and Workforce Subcommittee, would still hold the other 10 universities to those proposals.

Rep. Erik Fresen, the Miami Republican who sponsored the measure, said UF and FSU should be held to the same standards that the Legislature approved for them last year. And even members of the panel who were cautious about the proposal seemed to agree with the concept.

"I think there are some really important things that are happening in the pre-eminent universities that we should be measuring and incentivizing," said Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando. "We want them to chase these mega-goals because they're the two universities in the system that are ready to do that. But I don't want to do that to the detriment of our other state universities."

Fresen said his model would not necessarily give UF and FSU an undue share of the system's funding.

"I want to make clear that the system that we're setting forth, even with it double weighted, is not going to be set forth ... so that those dollars get poached by the pre-eminent universities," he said.

What happens with the performance-funding model, which is university system Chancellor Marshall Criser's top priority for the legislative session, could affect how tens of millions of dollars are divided. Under Gov. Rick Scott's proposal, $80 million would be divvied up under the performance-funding system, including $40 million of existing funding.

The House would push $75 million into performance funding, though only $30 million would come from "base" funding. The Senate would pump $200 million through the formula, with $100 million in new money and $100 million in base funding.

Some university presidents are skittish about the House model. Theoretically, the other schools could also be measured by the pre-eminent standards if they are designated pre-eminent universities. University of Central Florida President John Hitt said that process would be critical.

"We can understand if you're going to judge different institutions according to their peer groups," Hitt said. "I think we can all understand that. But how does that get done, and does it leave a pathway toward preeminence for those who don't have the status right now?"

This report is by Brandon Larrabee with The News Service of Florida.

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