As the 2019 legislative session gets underway next week, Florida A&M University representatives are focused on their priorities and their strategies in securing much-needed funds at the Capitol.
The Center for Access and Student Success is No. 1 on FAMU’s priority list.
According to Wanda Ford, FAMU’s chief financial officer, FAMU needed $40 million for the CASS building project, but received $16 million of that request. This has been an ongoing quest, as FAMU now plans to request $24 million to complete the project.
This year FAMU is requesting close to $40 million for highly prioritized items such as: the CASS building, general operational enhancements, and agriculture research. The university is also hoping to receive an additional $31 million for the advancement of the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering.
Barbara Cohen-Pippin, director of governmental relations, represents the university at the Capitol, informing the Legislature on what FAMU needs and why those needs are vital to the institution.
Cohen-Pippin said engaging students and alumni has always been her goal.
“What we’re doing is trying to build on what we did last year,” Cohen-Pippin said. “We want to take it up another level, increasing the engagement of faculty, students staff and alumni.”
Meetings for the 2019 legislative session took place as early as last summer, Cohen-Pippin said.
“We utilized the faculty and alumni. (We) ask them to reach out to legislators in their respective districts,” Cohen-Pippin said. “For example, we have Ramon (Alexander), but they need help and back up.
Rep. Ramon Alexander said he is working hard to articulate the needs of the university at the Capitol.
“These last two sessions we’ve been talking about equitable funding for all of our state universities,” Alexander said earlier this week. “We currently have 12 state universities within (our) system and since 2014, $985 million has been allocated in (performance-based funding) and Florida A&M has only received $17 million of that.”
With the Board of Governors’ previous system of the “bottom three” being in effect, FAMU was penalized for being in the bottom three even with an improvement in its metrics, which would include the implementation of the four-year graduation rate for first-time-in-college students.
“It was a flawed system, but we were able to articulate how that was not in the best interest of all of our universities,” Alexander said. “I think we’ve been doing a good job of painting the narrative of what is necessary for all of our institutions to be successful.”
Alexander said FAMU did not receive the PBF based off the metrics used by the BOG to allocate those dollars.
“What we were able to do this past session was get $6 million in reoccurring unrestricted dollars for FAMU, and that is $6 million that FAMU didn’t ask for,” Alexander said. “In spite of the challenges that were created by the Board of Governors’ policies, we were still able to get $6 million.”
Wanda Ford, FAMU’s chief financial officer, said that in total, FAMU has six strategic priorities for this year’s session.
“Everything that we’re requesting this year is an extension of what we’ve requested in previous years,” Ford said. “Some of the money will be used to increase our four-year graduation and retention rates.”
Ford said this is the third year that the university has requested money for the Brooksville project that is under the agriculture research, education and training section of FAMU’s legislative budget request. The Brooksville site is 3,800 acres of land that was donated from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“We’re seeking funding to set up that infrastructure,” Ford said. “We’ve been asking, but we haven’t received any funding as of yet. It is something that we’re trying to get established for the university. The university gives it support right now.”
Cohen-Pippin said that she and eight student leaders discussed how they would benefit from the proposed funds, and the possible downsides if not. The CASS building and its potential benefit was a major point of discussion.
“(Students) are having to juggle going to advising on one side of campus and then going to Foote-Hilyer on the other side, and then you have to find a place to park to go to financial aid and hope that you get to your job on time,” Cohen-Pippin said. “We’re trying to find ways to get these problems addressed.”