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Universities Get Boost Amid USF Uproar

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Posted: Sunday, May 14, 2017 5:30 am

Florida lawmakers on Monday approved a budget that will dramatically increase university funding and student financial aid, while leaders defended a performance standard that could impact the University of South Florida.

The new budget (will increase the Bright Futures merit scholarship program to cover 100 percent of tuition and fees for the top-performing students, known as "academic scholars." It will also extend the scholarships to summer classes and provide $300 per semester for books.

Need-based aid will increase by $126 million, with the bulk of it going toward "Florida student assistance grants," the state's largest program to help students with financial need.

Operating funds will increase for all 12 state universities, including $245 million in performance-based funds, a $20 million increase.

The agreement provides $71 million to universities to attract top-level faculty and researchers, with another $50 million aimed at high-achieving medical, law and business graduate schools.

The spending increases were tied to Senate President Joe Negron's initiative to elevate universities to "elite, national destination" institutions, while holding the schools to higher performance standards and offering more financial support for students.

But controversy erupted over the weekend when University of South Florida advocates learned a related budget bill had been changed Friday to increase the performance standard for "pre-eminent" universities from requiring that more than 50 percent of students graduate in four years to a 60 percent standard. USF has a 54 percent four-year graduation rate.

Currently, only the University of Florida and Florida State University have gained pre-eminent status, which will entitle them to an additional $48 million in funding in the next year. USF and the University of Central Florida are striving to reach the pre-eminent level. Negron defended the performance standard, saying it would not apply to USF or any of the schools until next year.

They also said USF would be held to the current pre-eminence standards which are tied to a 70 percent goal for graduating students in six years and the school would come up just short with a 67 percent rate.

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