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Bigger is better, private funding offers opportunity for University expansion

On Sept. 16, Florida Gulf Coast University Vice President for Administrative Services and Finance Steve Magiera presented to the Board of Trustees a new plan to reduce growth in enrollment at FGCU for the next six years. The plan is posted on the FGCU Board of Trustees website.

On Sept. 17, The News-Press reported that the Board of Trustees had approved the plan.

According to the plan, FGCU will reduce the number of students allowed to enroll during that time because of lower student state funding. Also, the limits are supposed to allow FGCU to adjust to a greater emphasis on performance-based state funding.

The plan limits the annual growth in student enrollment to 2.25 percent across all segments of the student population, including resident, non-resident, graduate and undergraduate.

The per-student funding, according to the plan, is used for additional classroom buildings. If total funding stays the same or decreases and the number of students’ increases more buildings are needed but the money is not available.

This is all very dry but seemingly simple, right? Reduce the number of students, and, even if the total funding stays the same, the amount per student increases. Fewer students means less need for classroom space, so there is more money to build what we need for the students that we have.

That sounds good, but I think the university is better served in the long run by not concentrating on squeezing every penny out of state funding.

What about private funding? According to press releases on the FGCU website, Holmes Hall, Lutgert Hall and Sugden Hall are examples of buildings on campus built at least partially built from of private funds.

I’m sure there are several more buildings that could be built and furnished in this way if FGCU attracted the eyes of wealthy donors interested in funding quality higher education.

How would we do this?

FGCU needs to attract students. We do not have the name recognition or reputation of an Ivy League or even a larger state school to bring elite students here to study. Our athletic program is growing thanks to our success in basketball, but we do not have the scholarship funding yet to draw the elite athletes.

First, we need to attract more prestigious scholars to add to our already quality faculty. Higher quality faculty scholarship will lead to higher quality education, which will attract higher quality students.

Second, we should not exclude students from the surrounding communities who may not have the flashy high school academic record of AP classes and 4.0+ GPAs. These mostly older students may not have the résumé of elite high school students, but they may thrive in a high-quality academic environment. Under the new plan I believe these students would likely be squeezed out.

If we attract more of the best teachers and students FGCU will be a better academic environment, which will attract private funding. If we limit enrollment and try to squeeze every penny out of the state funds we have, FGCU will become a stagnant academic environment.

In a thriving overall academic environment, if FGCU wants to build a reputation in certain fields of study, for instance, the environment, it can be an elite academic institution.

Meanwhile, state funding will not completely disappear. The Florida state constitution under Article IX, Section 1 states that, “Adequate provision shall be made by law for the establishment, maintenance and operation of institutions of higher learning.” As long as FGCU is a public university, public funds will be available.

We just can’t rely on them solely because “adequate” just isn’t as good as “excellent.”

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