Three months ago Kent Fuchs became president of the University of Florida, leaving New York’s Cornell University.
Fuchs says Florida universities are adding new faculty, but opposition to higher tuition means more pressure to find private donations.
The University of Florida is also expanding a new online program, with a goal of eventually enrolling 24,000 students.
Fuchs sat down with WLRN’s StateImpact Florida reporter John O’Connor to talk about the issues in higher education.
Q: Tell us a little bit about the state right now. You’ve been here three months. What have you learned so far? Where do you think things are? And where do you think they’re going?
A: When I look at the national landscape, the University of Florida, and indeed the state universities across our state, are in a different place than many of our peers.
We’re in a situation where the state of Florida is actually investing in higher education over the past several years. And I feel very fortunate to be on a trajectory where the state is, from all indications, going to be increasing its investment in higher ed.
Q: When you talk about those investments, I think the highest-profile one is the premier research university goal that’s been put into the state budget. How have you guys used that money, how do you intend to use it going forward?
A: Yes, two years ago the state legislature said there would be two universities that they wanted to have enhanced national and international profile. Those two universities are the University of Florida and Florida State University.
And they set aside — in the first year — $15 million dollars and in the second year an additional five. So $20 million per year, with the sole purpose of enhancing the quality of the faculty at those two universities.
We committed to hiring 120 preeminent faculty, and we’ve hired more than half of them. We’ve also committed to raising nearly a billion dollars of private money that will create an endowment to further accelerate the path to what we call preeminence.
Q: The recent conversation about higher ed in Florida has really focused on tuition. How do you balance the kind of push-pull between high-quality education and maintaining a lower cost of education?
A: I want to make sure that citizens of the state of Florida understand that the tuition here is quite low compared to almost any other state. We’re proud of that.
And that combined with the financial aid that we are raising through philanthropic means and aid that the state is giving for undergraduate students and families makes higher education in the state of Florida quite a bargain.
Now, the goals that all of the universities in this state have are not going to be achieved unless there are other resources that come in. If tuition is not going increase — and that’s why the investments by the state in higher ed are so important for the public universities.
And secondly, all of the presidents and chancellors, including myself, are working with friends, and foundations and other philanthropic sources to invest in higher education and the lives of our students.
Q: In 2013 the legislature asked the University of Florida to create an online education program. Tell us where it is right now, what the short-term plans are and what the longer-term plans are for the University of Florida Online?
A: So currently the University of Florida’s online program has 1,000 students involved. We have 15 undergraduate degrees that are fully online and available for students to be enrolled in and get degrees in.
We just launched a program for which we had nearly a thousand applicants, in which those students — if they take 60 credits online — then we admit them into the residential program. It provides a menu of options for students to get a college degree.