Photo: Mark Schreiner/WUSFUSF officials, led by Provost Ralph Wilcox, first row left, and System President Judy Genshaft, first row third from left, celebrate Thursday in Orlando after a FL Board of Governors committee approved USF as a preeminent university. They are making the "Go Bulls!" symbol.
University of South Florida joins University of Florida and Florida State University in 'preeminent' status
During her introductory speech in 2000, University of South Florida System, President Judy Genshaft set a goal: get USF on the same level as the state's two flagship schools, the University of Florida and Florida State University.
At 10:59 a.m. Wednesday, that goal finally came to fruition.
It happened when the Florida Board of Governors' Strategic Planning Committee meeting in Orlando unanimously approved USF's status as a preeminent university. It's an achievement that was attained previously among the state's 13 public universities by only UF and FSU.
The full board is set to vote on USF's preeminence Thursday in what's viewed as a formality.
"Thank you to the Board of Governors, but broader than that, thank you to the Tampa Bay community -- this means a great, great deal," Genshaft told reporters after Wednesday's vote.
USF will join UF and FSU in each receiving a little over $6.1 million in annual funding starting with the 2018-19 school year. The University of Central Florida will receive about $1.7 million as an emerging pre-eminent institution, a level USF had also been at since it was created by lawmakers in 2016.
Since Florida legislators and Gov. Rick Scott put preeminence funding into being in 2013 as a way to boost state universities into national prominence, FSU and UF will have received more than $58 million, including the new funds. USF's total will be just under $20 million.
The money will be used to continue building USF's academic strength.
"In large part, that means investing in world-class talent, whether best and the brightest faculty from around the world, or the most talented students coming to the University of South Florida and making our university their home," said Wilcox.
USF will use that hiring to try to reduce its student-to-faculty ratio, which currently is at about 22 to 1.
"We're all about quality," said Genshaft. "It's not growth for the sake of getting bigger -- it's getting better."
Another point of pride that the president pointed to in achieving preemincence is the student population that USF reached it with -- about 40 percent of the students on USF's Tampa campus receive Pell Grants, a federally-funded, need-based financial aid program.
By way of comparison, less than 28 percent of UF's undergrads are Pell recipients.
"The population we're dealing with is an urban population, it's very diverse and we're very proud of it," said Genshaft. "These are capable students that, with the right mentoring and the right surroundings, achieve remarkably well."
"We're changing their lives, we're changing the lives of their families, and as a result, we're changing Tampa Bay and the state of Florida in ways that couldn't be imagined years ago," added Wilcox.
The next challenge facing the school is implementing a consolidation plan that brings USF's Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campuses under one accreditation. That's the result of a law passed earlier this year by state lawmakers.
USF attained its preeminence metrics using only the numbers for its main Tampa campus, but Genshaft said that status should not be threatened when the three campuses are combined under one umbrella.
"We have a plan, we're all in alignment, everybody's very excited about consolidation, and we will achieve it by 2020," she said.
USF's consolidation plan, which is being developed in collaboration with community stakeholders, will come up for review by the Board of Governors later this fall. But for now, USF officials are celebrating, while continuing to look forward.
“We’ve come a long way. But I want you to know we are just beginning,” Genshaft told governors, while Wilcox added, "We are certainly not satisfied nor are we going to rest on our laurels as we continue to strive for even higher levels of performance.”
Governors challenged the pair to meet one of USF's remaining goals -- get into the top 50 on U.S. News and World Report's annual list of the country's best public universities. USF was #68 on the most recent list.
This story is from WUSF.