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Statewide Survey Finds Strong Support for University Funding
11/24/2003

FORT MYERS, FL - More than 80 percent of Floridians oppose cutting the budgets of public universities, even when faced with lower-than-expected state revenues, according to a poll released today by the State University Presidents Association.

Conducted by the Florida Center for Public Policy and Leadership at the University of North Florida, the poll found strong support for higher education and widespread concern among residents that inadequate state funding could jeopardize the quality of programs and access to universities. The survey showed that universities have greater public support than public safety and transportation when it comes to spending taxpayers’ dollars.

The survey found that nearly 70 percent of Floridians are somewhat or very concerned that their child or another member of their family will not have access to higher education in the next 20 years. Likewise, about 54 percent said it would not be possible for state government to reduce the amount of money that universities receive without lowering the quality of education.

The Florida Center’s Public Opinion Research Laboratory contacted more than 1,000 Floridians in October for the survey, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent with a 95 percent confidence level.

“We need to give credit to the citizens of Florida who clearly recognize that failing to properly fund higher education in our state could have disastrous effects on its future,” said John Hitt, chair of the State University Presidents Association and president of the University of Central Florida. “Florida's 11 public universities provide an educated work force, research that benefits the public and a strong economic impact on Florida.”

More than six out of 10 residents supported the state spending at least as much as the U.S. per-student average on higher education. Per-student funding in Florida is 16 percent lower than it was four years ago and less than what it was in the 1980s. In 2002, Florida’s adjusted per-student spending was $5,169 for universities compared with a national per-student average of $6,262. Last year, the State University System budget was cut by $40 million, student growth was not funded and new construction projects were severely curtailed.

FGCU President William C. Merwin said the survey results demonstrate that Floridians place a premium on a university education and its impact on the economy.

“Clearly, Floridians understand the economic impact of Florida's public universities and oppose a reduction in funding them,” Merwin said.

Despite recent budget cuts, the survey found that 73 percent of Floridians rate the quality of the state’s universities as good or excellent. Nearly 68 percent say the state’s public universities offer a good value for the money.

Six of 10 Floridians supported more spending on public colleges and universities. By contrast, only 47 percent advocated more spending on public safety such as police and prisons and only 42 percent advocated more spending on roads and highways. The only area that received stronger support for more spending was primary and secondary schools, which was supported by 77 percent of respondents.

The survey found that three-quarters of the state’s residents believe universities are very important to creating a well-trained work force in Florida, while nearly 85 percent said they were very important to enhancing research and technology. The majority of residents polled also said universities were very important to enhancing the quality of life, bringing federal grants and contracts into the state, keeping young people in Florida and creating a sense of pride in the state.

The statewide poll is part of the Quality & Access information campaign launched by Florida’s 11 public universities earlier this month. The campaign is designed to raise the public’s awareness of the funding challenges faced by Florida’s universities.

The full results of the poll can be found on the campaign’s web site at www.qualityandaccess.org or on the web site of the Florida Center at www.unf.edu./thefloridacenter .

The Public Opinion Research Lab at the Florida Center serves as a resource for public policymakers, faculty researchers, government agencies, non-profit agencies, businesses and students at Florida’s universities.

For more information, contact FGCU associate vice president for Community Relations Audrea Anderson at (239) 590-1083.

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