FAMU seeks millions to invest in STEM faculty, technology upgrades

Florida AM University is seeking more than $24 million from the state in its education budget next year, with most of the money directed at hiring faculty and support staff, strengthening its academic portfolio and advancing online education.

Of that, more than $7 million is needed for technology improvements throughout the campus, while another $1.3 million is needed for upgrades at the 3,800-acre agricultural research campus in Brooksville it inherited from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2015.

The legislative budget requests call for a combination of one-time funding and money FAMU needs annually.

FAMU’s Board of Trustees Friday approved the plan during a conference call. The request will be forwarded to the Board of Governors for vetting as part of the State University System’s legislative requests for 2018-2019.

“This is a ‘big ask’ but it appears to be a big ask in the right areas,” said Kelvin Lawson, chairman of the board of trustees. “We have specific areas where we need to improve. If (a four-year graduation rate) is becoming the yardstick, we need to be up for the challenge.”

The request outlines FAMU’s goal of hiring 35 top professors, the majority of them in health sciences, mathematics and basic sciences. The university also is requesting money to update teaching and study labs, hiring of 25 academic coaches at $50,000 each and 100 peer mentors/tutors at $3,000 each.

The legislative wish list is tied to the university’s strategic plan that calls for improving graduation and retention rates, its six-year graduation rate and producing more ready-for-the-workforce graduates in STEM fields.

“The university has launched a series of innovative initiatives aimed at creating a clear and visible path for students to graduate and achieve their ultimate career goals,” the narrative reads. “FAMU’s budget constraints are limiting the scale and effectiveness by which these initiatives can be deployed.”

FAMU’s goal is to strengthen its academic offerings in agriculture, cyber security, date science, health sciences and core sciences and mathematical disciplines.

Nearly $3 million is being requested to increase online courses. Legislators this spring appropriated FAMU $1 million towards online services.

Trustee Bettye Grable, who also serves as president of the Faculty Senate, commended interim President Larry Robinson for including money to pay student tutors and for seeking resources for online education and technology upgrades.

“We must be current with what is available on other campuses,” she said

In addition to academics. FAMU also is seeking nearly $7.6 million for a campus-wide technology upgrade in hardware and software for systems used by students and faculty.

The university also is asking for $1.2 million toward its Brooksville Agricultural and Environmental Research Station.

The money is needed for building renovations, equipment purchases and hiring two employees who would manage the operation, conduct research and outreach with partners and oversee educational programs.

Contact senior writer Byron Dobson at bdobson@tallahassee.com or on Twitter @byrondobson.

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