The State University System was ushered in by the 1905’s Buckman Act. The Act created two institutions for whites, the University of Florida (located at Gainesville) for men and Florida State University (located in Tallahassee) for women, and a Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (known as the State Normal School for Colored Students) as a post secondary education center for colored students. The three institutions were under the Board of Control, which in turn was answerable to State’s Board of Education. Under the Buckman Act, the Legislature controlled the funding, number of buildings, size of buildings, individual salaries, campus location, academic program expansions, and the positions in the three institutions.
By 1956, the need for an expanded and statewide higher education had been realized. The Legislature stepped in and authorized expansions through the state community college system. The 1960s through to 1980s saw the opening of six new universities and by 1997, the tenth campus was opened. By the 1960s, which was a period of immense expansion of higher education, the Board of Control still controlled the administration of the institutions. However, the legislature abolished the Board of Control in 1965 and established the Board of Regents as a way of boosting coordination over the increasing number of universities. The Board of Regents, which was made up of nine members, was given the express powers of governing, controlling, coordinating and overseeing the agencies and institutions of higher learning, including appointing their presidents.
By 1968, the Board of Regents was brought under the new Department of Education and by 1969 the board had outlined a “Comprehensive Development Plan” for the university system. The plan led to further expansions and developments in higher education, but in the 1970s focus shifted to reducing budgetary allocations to University Education and the quality of education. The Legislature responded by creating centers of excellence in research and strengthened the independence of universities. The Board of Regents was empowered to develop procedures and rules, review and assess service and research programs in institutions, select presidents, and to monitor fiscal performance.
Florida committed more money to University education. For instance, it successfully supported the participation of the University System in the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, having the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as the lead competitor, and going ahead to win the competition. In order to keep the working relationship between the Legislature, Regents, and campuses smooth and effective, the state established the Post secondary Education Planning Commission (PEPC), removed the Regents from involvement in daily administration of campuses and tasking them with policy development, and creating a master plan for post secondary education. The Regents increased from 9 to 13 and are now appointed by the Governor and validated by the Senate to six-year rotation terms.
The Board of Regents discusses and adopts rules that are transmitted to the state Board of Education for Approval. At the helm of the board is the Chancellor who develops and manages higher education data, and who is open to scrutiny by the legislature. Characteristically, the chancellors have been effective in giving the legislators crucial information when necessary. The chancellor authorizes institution presidents to introduce programs and establish the university’s mission. Conversely, it is the role of the legislature to define the budget for institutions and the number of students that can be enrolled. The chancellors deal directly with the legislature in matters of higher education while institutional presidents deal with daily management of their institutions. Rarely can a college president appear before the legislature to complain about any matter. Instead, the presidents channel their issues through the chancellor.
The State University System allows faculties to unionize and petition the chancellor. The chancellor presents grievances to the Board of Regents, which can negotiate and agree to new contracts. Failure to agree with the Regents compels the unions to take their demands to the legislature for further bargaining. Though unions vary in strength from institution to institution, having a union gives the faculty an opportunity to bargain for better terms.
Entry into Florida State Universities is a highly competitive process for students. The high school grade point average (GPA) required is a 3.0 or a minimum SAT score of 1050 in order to enroll. For first-time entrants, the minimum requirement set by the Board of Regents is a SAT score of 900 or a GPA average of C-plus. Nonetheless, institutions can raise their minimum admissions requirements to suit their missions, programs, and capacity. To project enrollments in the State University System and community college system, representatives and education sector stakeholders meet in an enrollment conference. Since 1988, the University System has attracted increased enrollment. For instance, there was an increase from 158,000 students in 1988 to 198,000 in 1994. The figure has kept rising by about 25% per decade.
Florida has consistently remained a low-tuition state, ranking 47th nationally from 1995-1996. The rate of increase in undergraduate resident fees was 36 percent between 1990 and 1996, up from $838 to $1,142. Moreover, there existed a massive resistance to tuition increases, with the extra charges being considered as tax increases. Today, however, the apprehension with increasing tuition is fading and Business-Higher Education Partnership proposal has linked the amount of tuition to the cost of instruction.