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Universities, Crist push plan to double funding

On the heels of a Florida Council of 100 report recommending the state universities double their state and tuition funding over the next five years, the Board of Governors that oversees the 11 universities today is launching an initiative to do just that.

The New Florida Initiative seeks to increase state support for the SUS by $1.75 billion over five years -- all under the mantra of economic development and moving Florida. into the "knowledge-based economy." Coupled with revenue from tuition increases, the money would double funding.

Gov. Charlie Crist this afternoon is expected to  announce the first step in the long-term investment: $100 million in new, recurring funding as part of his recommended higher education budget.

But the source of that much money is unclear, and last week he recommended a K-12 budget that is propped up with over $400 million in revenues from a gambling compact that has yet to be signed by the Legislature.

Also, Senate President Jeff Atwater - who often praises the colleges as key to economic development - warned yesterday that universities are likely to face funding cuts, or maybe hold steady. But he said a significant hike in funding for 2010-11 is doubtful, given the state budget deficit.

SUS leaders say the support will enable public universities to  generate thousands more in college graduates, expand research and outside research grants, create spinoffs and new patents that boost Florida's economy.

--Shannon Colavecchio,Times/Herald