Higher Education: Funding
Here’s how Florida’s public universities plan to get the money they say they need to get better.
Banner Years for Private Schools
Talk about the effects of the recession and today's anemic economy with the leaders of tuition-dependent private schools like Florida Southern College, Eckerd College and Barry University, and the response is pretty much a collective shrug.
Students at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. "We've had banner fundraising years," says Florida Southern's Robert Tate.
[Photo: Florida Southern College]
"We were able to weather the storm pretty well," says Bruce Edwards, Barry vice president for business and finance. Says Eckerd College President Donald Eastman, "We think things have gone swimmingly." Florida Southern vice president for external relations Robert Tate: "We are actually doing fine. We've had banner fundraising years."
Some Florida colleges fared well in the downturn because they cut costs early. They've also profited as financially able students and parents began turning to private schools after looking at the financial storms engulfing the state budget and public universities.
There's also a tenet that private college alumni are more loyal and supportive than public university graduates. The Florida schools say they will continue to watch costs as they look to increase endowments. Eckerd earlier this year hit its campaign goal to raise $80 million.
Some have innovative revenue ideas. Winter Park-based Rollins College plans to break ground in October on its 110-room "Alfond Inn at Rollins," built with a $12.5-million donation from the foundation of Dexter Shoe founder Harold Alfond. Rollins hopes to capture business from visitors and families now lost to hotels. Profits will go into the college's premier scholarship fund.
Since they depend so much on tuition, private colleges have had to work harder in the recession to get and retain students, especially as student families suffer economically, says Ed Moore, president of the Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida, which represents 29 institutions.
"The smart approach to this problem is not to continue to increase the capacity at Florida's already mammoth, overburdened state universities (because the seats are too expensive), nor to continue to foster the essentially unregulated evolution of 'state colleges' from community colleges (because the graduation rates are scandalously low). For-profit colleges have their place in American higher education, but their low graduation rates and student debt are already rightly the target of congressional investigation."
A continuing issue is the amount the Legislature puts into Florida Resident Access Grants ["Pressure Valve," page 84] "It's not a good trend line," says Eckerd's Eastman, who argues that aid to private school students is the most economical way to expand access to higher education for Floridians.
Several institutions — Davie-based Nova Southeastern University and St. Leo University, for example — have boosted revenue and expanded their markets with satellite campuses or distance-learning programs. St. Leo educates students on military bases in seven states. But aside from true long-distance-learning, most private schools shun online courses as a tool to educate on-campus students. "Truly the worst way to educate 18 to 22 year olds is to substitute technology for passionate, highly qualified professors. Online, you're getting shortchanged," Eastman says.
Unlike some of the public institutions, private schools don't seem interested in growing revenue by growing on-campus enrollment. The University of Miami, with about 10,000 undergraduates, is typical. "Our mission is to do the very best we can for the limited number of students we have," says provost Tom LeBlanc. If the school focuses on quality, financially, "we'll be OK."