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Sunday, September 24, 2023

The Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program may be popular with UF students, but the student aid is hurting the university, UF's Chief Financial Officer Matt Fajack said in a Wednesday speech.

Fajack spoke to a crowd of about 50 UF administrators and local leaders, including Gainesville City Commissioner Jack Donovan, at the Community Campus Council breakfast held at the Hilton UF Conference Center.

The breakfast, held once a month during the academic year, is a 35-year tradition, according to UF's Web site.

While attendees finished eating their $16-a-plate buffet breakfasts, Fajack discussed the university's budget woes.

Fajack said one of the biggest reasons UF is seeing budget shortfalls is because of Bright Futures.

Bright Futures, which is funded by the Florida Lottery, is keeping tuition low because it makes the state Legislature reluctant to raise tuition, he said.

"If we raise tuition without affecting Bright Futures, it just comes out of the state coffers," he said, "so the state, especially right now, has no incentive to increase tuition."

UF's tuition and fees are about $3,700 a year, and the national average for all four-year universities is about $6,800 a year, he said.

About 94 percent of incoming freshmen at UF have Bright Futures, and about 70 percent of all UF undergraduates have the scholarship, he said.

To help solve the situation, Fajack said he would like to see scholarship money capped at about $3,000 to $3,200 a year or the scholarship's standards increased, or both.

Fajack said the Legislature's affinity for Bright Futures and other policies hinder UF from becoming a prestigious institution.

"The state economic policies and procedures keep us, handicap us, from becoming the greatest university in the world," Fajack said.

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With increased revenue from tuition, he said, UF would be able to hire more faculty and reduce the student-to-faculty ratio, which is about 21-to-1.

At UF's peer institutions, it's about 15- or 16-to-1, he said.

UF's high ratio gives teachers less time to spend with students and less time for research, he said.

"That professor that inspired you to your life work, he didn't inspire you because… he or she doesn't have the time to talk to you," he said.

"The person that wrote the proposal for the grant that cured cancer didn't cure cancer because he didn't have time to write the proposal."

In addition to talking about tuition, Fajack said he expects UF to receive a cut in state funds from the Legislature for the next academic year but said he didn't know how large it would be.

He said it was also possible the state would cut UF's budget in the middle of the academic year. However, he said he didn't expect that to happen because he thinks the state understands how devastating such a move would be.

He jokingly told the audience they could help UF's budget situation by encouraging people to play Powerball when the Florida Lottery introduces it in January.

"Make sure all your friends from up North come down and buy a lot of Powerball tickets," he said.

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