GAINESVILLE (AP) — Florida State University President Eric Barron made a pitch Thursday to keep his school’s digital film program in West Palm Beach even though a partner company has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
The chairman of the board that oversees Florida’s 12 public universities, meanwhile, said they cannot sustain more budget cuts in his annual State of the System address during a meeting at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
Barron told the board talks are under way with four other companies interested in replacing Digital Domain, which closed its new animation studio in Port St. Lucie and laid off about 280 employees last year.
The board took no immediate action but is considering whether Florida State should be required to move the program to its main campus in Tallahassee. Besides losing its business partner, the program has drawn opposition from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, which is only 30 miles from West Palm Beach.
“This is an opportunity for this state to attract a completely different industry that has a broad set of employment opportunities and isn’t centered in New York or centered in California,” Barron told the board.
He also noted that digital media has medical and military, as well as entertainment, applications.
Board chairman Dean Colson said he would appoint a three-member committee to study the issue and make a recommendation to the panel.
Barron said his university’s film school is the only one in Florida ranked among the 25 best in the world so it has the reputation needed to attract industry partners, but they prefer larger cities with good airline connections not found in smaller towns such as Tallahassee.
The two faculty members, both industry veterans who have worked on such films as “The Green Hornet,” “Hugo,” “Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast,” and all except one of the 28 students currently enrolled say they would not move to Tallahassee, Barron said. He said that means Florida State would have to continuing teaching in West Palm Beach for the next three years to maintain the film school’s accreditation.
In other business, Colson said in his annual address that the State University System has many positive achievements, including the 10th-lowest tuition rate in the nation and six schools ranked as top values by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine.
“Remaining affordable is crucial, but this board must be mindful of how it affects quality,” Colson said.
He noted the state’s share of university funding has dropped from 70 percent to 44 percent per student over the past six years. That amounts to a loss of more than $1 billion, including a $300 million cut in the current budget year. Tuition increases have recouped $754 million but that still leaves a $291 million gap, Colson said.
“We are more efficient than ever, but it can only go so far,” he said. “This decline in funding is not sustainable.”
The board for the first time approved $15 million in performance-based budget awards for four universities. The universities of Florida, West Florida and Central Florida and Florida International University each received $3.75 million based on the performance of their information technology programs.
The funding is a pilot program ordered by the Legislature last year and could be the forerunner of system-wide performance-based budgeting.
The board’s Budget and Finance Committee discussed potential performance metrics that could be used to determine each university’s funding. They include three proposed by Gov. Rick Scott: percentage of bachelor’s degree graduates employed or continuing their educations, cost per degree and the average wage of graduates who find jobs.
Others being considered are six-year graduation rates; freshman retention; number of degrees awarded in science, technology, engineering and math; percentage of students getting federal Pell grants, and master’s degrees awarded in areas of strategic emphasis.