By Adam Freeman, University Communications and Marketing
The Florida Legislature on Tuesday reached agreement on a state budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year that includes transformational increases in recurring operational funding and new investments in several significant projects for the University of South Florida.
In the coming days, the Legislature is expected to vote to approve the budget and send it to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his review, approval and line-item veto consideration.
The budget builds on last year’s record-breaking legislative session for USF.
“The support from the Legislature is a recognition of the incredible work and ongoing pursuit of excellence by our students, faculty and staff,” USF President Rhea Law said in a message to the USF community. “These new investments will help us advance toward our collective goal of becoming a top 25 public university and allow us to make an even greater impact for the Tampa Bay region and state of Florida.”
Pending the governor’s approval, the following are among the items in this year’s budget:
- A $63.3 million recurring increase to USF’s operational budget to support the work of each of USF’s three campuses and USF Health. A large portion of this increase was funded through a new $100 million recurring investment in the state’s Preeminent State Research Universities Program, which will be split equally between the three preeminent institutions, USF, the University of Florida and Florida State University.
- $6.5 million to invest in campus life facility projects funded through the state’s Capital Improvement Trust Fund.
- $2.9 million for the Department of Mental Health Law and Policy at USF to lead a collaboration to develop simulation modeling tools that will improve responses and treatments for opioid use and overdoses.
“This investment from the legislature will make a material difference in our quest to become a top 25 public university and have an impact felt throughout the region and the state,” said USF Board of Trustees Chair Will Weatherford. “The Tampa Bay Area Legislative Delegation fought hard for USF this year and their advocacy is reflected in these new state investments in our university. We are especially grateful to Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and Speaker Paul Renner for their leadership and unwavering commitment to higher education and to USF.”
The budget also includes $24.3 million to fund the first phase of planning and construction of a new Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences Research and Teaching facility on the USF St. Petersburg campus. This facility will further position St. Petersburg as a world-class center of marine and environmental science, education and community engagement.
"This funding from our state leaders will give us the resources to continue to help our students not only reach their goals but excel beyond them," said Christian Hardigree, regional chancellor of USF St. Petersburg. "We are particularly grateful for the funding for the Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences center of excellence, which if approved by the governor, will create tremendous opportunities for students pursuing careers in this important field and make St. Petersburg a hub for businesses looking to build a talent pipeline."
In addition, $20 million is included for the new Nursing/STEM facility on the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus. This facility, which received $3 million in last year’s state budget, will allow for the expansion of degree offerings in the STEM and nursing fields across USF and will significantly increase the number of students who can enroll in and complete those programs on the Sarasota-Manatee campus.
"We are incredibly grateful for the Florida Legislature’s support to invest in the university and our campus. Our new research and academic building will allow us to expand our nursing, engineering and other academic programs, transform our campus and elevate the higher education profile of our region, addressing a heightened demand for more nurses, business professionals, scientists, engineers and other professions,” said Karen Holbrook, regional chancellor of USF Sarasota-Manatee.
Among the other initiatives funded are two projects for USF Health:
- $14 million to conduct a state-funded comprehensive clinical trial of hyperbaric oxygen therapy’s medical effectiveness in treating PTSD and traumatic brain injuries among veterans and active-duty military service members.
- $3 million to complete the acquisition and installation of a new functional MRI (fMRI) machine for brain research and diagnostic purposes. fMRI measures activity in different parts of the brain during mental and physical tasks and is a critical research tool that will expand research grant opportunities for USF faculty and students.
“This year’s funding from the Florida Legislature impacts several strong programs at USF Health, but we are especially proud that U.S. military veterans struggling with PTSD and potentially even traumatic brain injury may benefit from a generous allocation,” said Dr. Charles Lockwood, executive vice president of USF Health and dean of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. “With $14 million in initial investments from the state, our USF Health Department of Neurosurgery will conduct a five-year clinical trial on hyperbaric oxygen therapy, a treatment showing great promise for easing PTSD-related symptoms.”
The State University System’s performance-based funding program also received an $85 million funding increase from the Legislature. As part of the Board of Governors' (BOG) funding model, USF will receive a portion of this funding, which will enable the university to further enhance its student success initiatives. The exact amount USF will earn will be determined by the BOG in June based on the latest performance metric results.
Aside from the budget, there are several higher education bills that are moving through the legislative process and could be passed prior to the end of session on May 5.