USF could miss out on millions in funding due to state budget change

- A late change to a piece of legislation approved Friday may cause the University of South Florida to miss out on millions in state funding.

Tampa's Mayor Bob Buckhorn expressed his disappointment with the bill, saying, "I'm not sure if we'll ever know whose fingerprints were on the knife that they stuck in USF's back, but we certainly can suspect that. There's a lot of competition between universities and that's unfortunate because we all need to rise together as a state. As each university does well that benefits all of us as Floridians."

Each year, millions of dollars are rewarded to Florida's so-called preeminent status universities. In order to qualify for the prestigious title, and the money that comes with it, state schools have to meet certain performance benchmarks. Among those requirements are metrics like student test scores, national rankings and research spending. Another requirement is a 70-percent graduation rate in six years. 

Since the program's inception only two schools have been able to qualify. Each year the University of Florida and Florida State University benefit handsomely, raking in $5 million to $15 million to spend on recruiting highly achieving students and faculty and funding new research.

In January it appeared a third school would for the first time be able to crack the preeminent status club. A new bill would have lowered the graduation standard from 70-percent over six years to 50-percent over four.

So USF, with its 54-percent four year graduation rate, would've qualified. That would mean USF would get to split the $48 million set aside for preeminent universities with UF and FSU.

In the final hours of Friday's legislative session, that threshold was suddenly raised. The bill that passed has a 60-percent, four-year graduation requirement, just above USF's rate.

The Bulls are now crying foul and asking supporters to contact state elected officials to express their anger.

An online petition is available to sign through the Tampa chamber of commerce and a USF Alumni association website page that helps send messages to elected officials. 

A university official says it's unclear if changes to the bill can still be made or if it can only be voted for or against. The vote occurs Monday.

If the bill is voted down, the existing requirement of a 70 percent, six-year graduation rate for preeminent status would remain. USF's six year graduation rate is currently 67-percent. The University says it expects to meet the 70-percent mark by 2020.

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