FAU to build 614-bed dorm as it plans for expansion

Florida Atlantic University could get both bigger and smaller as a way to fill a $30 million budget hole.

Bigger in that the university's enrollment, now at 29,313, will likely top 30,000 as the university admits more undergraduate students to increase its tuition revenues. And smaller in that there may be fewer campuses.

To help encourage growth, the FAU Board of Trustees on Thursday approved construction of a 614-bed residence hall, scheduled to open in the fall 2013. FAU plans to issue a bond to pay for the $41.7 million project and repay the loan with student rent.

"We know these kind of facilities are very important to incoming freshmen and helps with student retention," President Mary Jane Saunders said on Thursday, at a meeting with the trustees in Davie.

The residence hall, which could be as large as eight stories, will be FAU's ninth housing facility. It will expand on-campus housing from 3,664 beds to 4,278.

Saunders is looking a number of other short- and long-term strategies to help FAU with its budget cuts. She's receiving input from students, faculty and others on campus and expects to prepare a specific proposal within 10 days. "We will continue to serve out students extremely well," she said. "They are our top priority."

The Legislature sliced FAU's budget by $24.7 million as part of a $300 million reduction to the State University System. But the state also will not be providing $2 million that FAU is contractually obligated to pay for The Scripps Research Institute's building in Jupiter or $3 million in capital funding for buildings, bringing the total to about $30 million, Saunders said.

The president said the university is trying to avoid layoffs by leaving some positions vacant and reducing the hours or shortening the contract terms of others. She is exploring ways to trim summer school expenses, which are now $10 million, and energy costs.

Some students and faculty may have to travel farther. In addition to its main Boca Raton campus, FAU has classes in Davie, Fort Lauderdale, Jupiter and Port St. Lucie, as well as research facilities in Dania Beach and Fort Pierce. Not all branches may survive, she said.

"We have to examine the role of all seven of our campuses," she said.

FAU is trying to secure more donations and grants and also plans to raise undergraduate tuition by 15 percent for the fourth straight year.

Ayden Maher, FAU's student government president, said he's concerned about the cost to students. Tuition and fees are currently $5,483 a year and expected top $6,000 this fall.

"One of the ways we attract students and keep them is because of the low cost of tuition," he said. "To have 15 percent increases year after year is unfair to students."