Higher education struggles with budget cuts

Budget cuts have affected the state of Florida in many ways. Higher education has suffered, and institutions have struggled to maintain a satisfactory educational environment and adequate resources.

Florida A&M has suffered from loss of faculty, support staff and programs. However, FAMU is not the only state -funded school that has been financially strained. The University of Florida has had issues since budget cuts were implemented as well.

Janine Sikes, director of the Office of Public Affairs at UF, said the institution struggles to do more with less.

“Over the past five years, we’ve had to cut $225 million and eliminated hundreds of positions,” Sikes said. “We struggle every year to limit overly-large classes that can be a problem for teachers.”

At some universities, when employees are cut, the college is still expected to offer services, although the services may not be as timely or as effective as they could be if the appropriate number of staff was in place. Institutions such as North Florida Community College are trying to accommodate electronically.

Amelia Mulkey, dean of Administrative Services at NFCC, said the school attempts to use technology to keep up with a few service demands.   

“A shortage of staff leads to the necessity of automated processes, losing the personal touch and assurance of correctly following procedure for students,” Mulkey said. “We’re seeking to automate the admission process along with the registration process that is already automated. But, more errors and last- minute discovery of mistakes can occur.” 

NFCC is just one college using automated processing to help with the lack of staff. However, other institutions, such as the University of Central Florida, have been struggling to be as efficient as possible with available staff.

“We’ve cut $150 million over the past five years, and our state support has been cut in half,” said Grant Heston, associate vice president for Communication and Public Affairs at UCF

Heston said the percentage of money that UCF spends on administration has been lower than the state average of 40 percent, which has allowed the institution to put more money on the academic side to help the hardworking teachers. 

“For the most part, students haven’t really noticed the drastic effects because professors are doing more to accommodate,” Heston said. “(They are) teaching more overly-sized classes during the semester, teaching a greater number of classes and working longer hours.” 

Although many Florida institutions are suffering from lack of faculty and administrative staff, some worry more about their maintenance funding. Money has decreased and is not available for maintenance and renovations of buildings and facilities, such as the parking garage at FAMU. Sikes said the biggest issue at UF is not having enough money for maintenance to repair damaged equipment and facilities.

“We could lose research space, classrooms, staff space and if you don’t keep up with the maintenance of the buildings, it will cost more to fix if it fails,” Sikes said. “At some point, we’re going to have a major catastrophe where one of our buildings is going to fail and cost a lot of money.”