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President Donald R. Eastman III

Op Ed Articles

State Gets Good Return On Students

Published in The Tampa Tribune
Saturday, May 17, 2003, Nation/World p. 19.

As president of one of Florida's 27 non-profit independent colleges and universities, I applaud the initiative launched by the state university presidents to increase funding for their institutions. My fellow presidents and I urge state legislators to protect all sectors of higher education during the current special session.

I would like, however, to correct the erroneous impression created by recent news reports that Florida's independent colleges and universities would not be hurt by proposed cuts in education funding. The spending proposals before the Legislature would be woefully inadequate for all sectors of higher education: the state universities, the community colleges and the independent colleges and universities.

Several state universities may be forced to limit their enrollments, which makes it more important than ever that the state protect the grants it awards to Florida residents who attend one of the 27 institutions that belong to the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida, and which enroll 25% of college students in Florida and grant 31% of college degrees earned in Florida.
The Florida Resident Access Grant (FRAG) program provides $2,686 a year tuition-assistance grants to state residents who enroll as full-time undergraduate students at one of our institutions. Nearly 30,000 students participate in the program, which has been growing rapidly. In fact, participation in the program has doubled in eight years. We expect 2,900 additional students to receive the grants in the fall. But our success in expanding the program has become our problem in the lean budget lawmakers will be crafting during the special session.

Spending proposals during the regular session would have eliminated growth funding for the FRAG program, and the Senate plan would reduce funding even further. If that happens, individual grants would be cut between $200 and $410 or between 9 and 18 percent.

Our institutions will become a less feasible option to Florida students seeking an alternative to state universities. In a study released in March, the James Madison Institute spotlighted the importance of the FRAG to the independent colleges and universities and their students:

"The authors of this study have concluded that Florida's independent colleges and universities provide an essential complement to the programs offered by the state's community colleges and universities, that the people of Florida are well-served by these institutions, and they urge the Florida Legislature to recognize their unique and essential place in meeting the state's obligations to provide quality higher education for our people."

The study noted that it costs about $12,000 a year to educate a state university student. Tuition averages about $2,700, leaving a $9,300 subsidy provided to the student by the taxpayers.

The state can provide FRAG awards to nearly four independent college and university students for what it costs to subsidize one state university student. This makes the FRAG one of the best investments the Legislature can make in higher education.

I urge legislators to protect all sectors of higher education when they allocate scarce resources during the special session. There is no better time than a lean budget year to invest in effective student-assistance programs.

Dr. Donald R. Eastman III is president of Eckerd College, a private liberal arts college in St. Petersburg.

Copyright 2003 Tampa Tribune (Florida)
The Tribune Co. Publishes The Tampa Tribune