Otto von Bismark once compared politics to making sausages: squeamish people should not look at it too closely. One did not have to look closely at the last legislative session to feel squeamish. For one thing, it went into overtime because of squabbling over the budget, and this time USF got bit in that last minute squabbling. In this issue:
In addition, thanks to everyone who participated in the National Association of Letter Carriers' 25th annual Stamp Out Hunger food drive. Final results may not be in for a while, but last year's drive collected 40,000 tons of food from ten thousand cities. (The NALC was founded by Civil War veterans in 1889, and is one of the oldest unions in the nation. One of their first victories was a Supreme Court decision enforcing the eight hour day.)
The big item was the budget, and the governor is apparently unhappy. If he vetoes it, the Legislature may have to start over again in a special session.
About that Preeminence Metric
For USF, the session ended with a bang. The session was supposed to end on May 5, but as of then the Legislature hadn't produced a budget, the one thing that they have to do. So Florida Senate President Joe Negron and Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran met and hammered out a compromise, a compromise that has costed USF millions of dollars and raises serious questions about the Legislature's use of metrics for funding.
According to the Legislature, once upon a time the Legislature allocated funds based on staffing. In the 1990s, the Legislature decided to allocate money based on costs, with the central issue being funding for undergraduate education. Then about four years after the publication of The Hunger Games, the "stakeholders" started working on a system of Performance Metrics in which those institutions that met a list of criteria got to share a pot of money; these included items like the six-year graduation rate - all were concerned with undergraduate education.
The Performance Metrics were not aimed at graduate education, research, or scholarship, and the Legislature created a Preeminent State Research Universities Program and then an Emerging Preeminent State Research Universities program, based on a different system of metrics. The Preeminence metrics were different enough from the Performance Metrics to create dilemmas for some institutions, but they still had some metrics on undergraduate instruction - including the six-year graduation rate.
There were twelve preeminence benchmarks, and an institution that met eleven of them was "preeminent" (with all the money that that implied); an institution that met six of them was "emerging preeminent" (with some money). Last year, USF met nine of the benchmarks and filed a five year plan that was hoped to get USF into full preeminence (more millions of dollars) by 2018.
What happened in Spring is a cautionary tale. In January, parallel bills appeared in both houses of the Legislature that changed the six-year graduation rate benchmark (70 % graduating within six years) to a four-year graduation rate benchmark (50 % graduating within four years). (Reality check. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that in 2012, for "4-year public institutions", the six-year graduation rate was 57.2 % while the four-year graduation rate was 34.4 %.) USF is now reporting a 54 % four-year graduation rate, so it looked as if USF would become preeminent this year (and start getting the full amount of preeminence money this year). With those two bills making their stately progress through the legislature, everyone from legislative committees to the Board of Governors started making plans based on this new benchmark.
Then two weeks ago, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron decided to change the benchmark to a four-year graduation rate of 60 %, which USF did not expect to meet before 2020. Despite a last minute push by Tampa Bay pillars of the community (including the UFF Biweekly, which apologizes for erroneously stating that the Legislature would meet on May 7), the Legislature passed the budget with the 60 % benchmark in place.
So USF isn't preeminent - unless the governor (who is very unhappy about the budget) doesn't sign it, in which case the Legislature starts over again from wherever it is now.
The Chair of the USF Board of Trustees remains bullish, but two significant changes in a critical benchmark during a single legislative session suggests a fumbled interception or something. It also suggests that these metrics - which are useful only if they are stable over time - are not stable over time. In particular, it suggests that in 2020, USF may fail to achieve some adjusted metric as a result of a similar shenanigan.
The bottom line is that these metrics are as political as anything else in Tallahassee, and whatever the Legislature's pretensions, getting funding remains an exercise in politics.