Budget Cuts from State Detrimental to Residents in Five-County Region; Merwin Urges Citizens to Get Involved in Contacting Legislators This Week
FORT MYERS, FL - The Florida legislature’s multimillion-dollar cuts to all 10 state universities’ budgets will be especially detrimental to the people and economy of Southwest Florida because the children of families in the immediate five-county region mostly comprise enrollment at Florida Gulf Coast University, President William C. Merwin said.
Merwin is urging citizens to get involved in the fight to not only save affordable access to their hometown university for their children but to also curb the long-term adverse effects on the regional economy. FGCU is exceptionally under-funded in the state’s budget for next fiscal year.
In fact, parents in the region are reeling because the legislature’s cuts forced FGCU to brace for the worst: The names of nearly 130 would-be entering freshmen are presently sitting on a waiting list until the budget issue is resolved. More names are added daily.
Five-year old FGCU is already in distress because it is under-funded by 300 students in the current budget. The state’s past mandate for FGCU to bolster recruitment created double-digit enrollment increases the last three years, and another 300 students are expected to apply for fall entry, bringing FGCU’s total 2003-04 enrollment to about 3,300 full-time students.
If left unchanged, the legislature’s budget funds enough slots for only 2,400 students.
On the economy side, several key professions where Southwest Florida needs graduates the most will be hit hard, such as nurses and teachers.
“A cap on enrollment now, equates to fewer graduates in four years,” Merwin said. “It will not fill the need of a growing region and economy, and we will feel the effect for a long time.”
The Senate is recommending a 12.5 percent tuition increase to ease the outcome of the cuts, but the resulting dollars will barely reduce the massive gap left by the slashing.
FGCU is not only capping enrollment in anticipation of the budget. The University is also reviewing current plans for summer classes and postponing filling faculty and staff positions, which will further compound the effect on the local economy.
In addition to the cuts, FGCU is preparing to lose $4.2 million in matching funds from the state for the construction of the Sugden Resort and Hospitality Management classroom building, which would have housed its new program by the same name. A financial gift from a private donor last year nearly halved the cost to the state for constructing the building, but the legislature did not include matching funds from the state in the budget.
However, in what seems to be an extremely illogical move, the legislature is continuing state-subsidized funding for several private colleges around the state. The legislature will not cut funding to K-12 or community colleges.
Joining a statewide information blitz this week, Merwin met with the editorial boards of four major newspapers in the region to make the point that citizens of Southwest Florida will feel the brunt of the legislature’s cuts if they go unchanged in the special session, which begins Monday.
For more information, contact associate vice president for Community Relations Audrea Anderson at (239) 590-1083.