When I joined UCF after leaving the University of North Carolina in 2010, the Central Florida Future published an opinion piece that challenged me to help lead UCF into a better tomorrow.
Nearly two years later, I’m more committed to that cause than ever. There’s been a focus on growth with quality during UCF’s nearly 50-year history, and I’ve been pleased to support that legacy during my tenure.
UCF continues to adapt its campus and curriculum to meet the changing needs of our students and community. But these past two years have also been very challenging for students, staff and faculty members and the university family.
These years have been challenging because the institutions that make up Florida’s state university system, including UCF, have been asked to do more with less. UCF believes in providing access to higher education to qualified Florida residents, so our enrollment has grown even as state support for education has declined.
It’s no secret that these are difficult budgetary times — the state has reduced its support for UCF by nearly half during the past five years. This year, UCF faces a one-time $52.6 million state budget cut, on top of almost $100 million in permanent cuts from previous years.
Unless something is done, students will see larger classes and less time with professors. Fewer courses and instructors will lead to graduation delays, which is why I support a 15 percent tuition increase to help fight the effects of state budget cuts.
If approved, the added tuition will result in $20 million for UCF. About $14 million will go to what matters most to our students — vital courses, programs and support for undergraduate students. The remaining funds will be distributed to students as need-based financial aid.
Without differential tuition, UCF will be very different — 112 faculty positions and 550 classes will be affected. Diminished financial aid will hurt those who need it most.
Student debt has become a national issue as declining state support has forced universities around the country to rely on tuition increases. But even with a differential tuition increase, UCF tuition would remain one of the country’s least expensive.
Nationally, 33 percent of college students graduate debt free, but at UCF, our numbers tell a different story. Forty-nine percent of students graduate without any UCF educational debt. Those with debt have average totals almost 25 percent below the national average.
At UCF, we spend money efficiently and effectively. For instance, the university spends considerably less on undergraduate instruction and administrative expenses than the state university system average and is a leader in student success rates.
Additionally, UCF has saved millions through operational efficiencies, partnerships and innovative solutions. For example, UCF stands to save about $2 million in energy savings annually thanks to the power plant that is being built at Libra Drive and Gemini Boulevard.
However, UCF’s belt tightening is at the point where, without new dollars, students will be adversely affected. For these reasons, a tuition increase is necessary.
Education is crucial to our economy, and state support for universities is essential. With it, universities can encourage access, maintain quality and ease the tuition burden on students and their families. Without it, we all stand to lose.