When the Florida Board of Governors began three days of meetings on the USF campus Tuesday, the board had a harsh line of questioning for the host campus after listening to a 20-minute presentation highlighting many of USF’s accomplishments.
“It’s very impressive, everything you’ve done, including presenting to us on STEM, graduation rates and all that,” BOG member Mori Hosseini said. “There’s one thing that’s just a killer to me.”
After a presentation that centered on many of USF’s highlights, including ranking in the top 50 research universities in the likes of universities such as Stanford and Johns Hopkins, being No. 27 in the nation for federal research funding and meeting six of eight eligibility requirements for membership in the American Association of Universities , members of the BOG had questions about the university’s branch campuses.
“If you look at all of your numbers, which are so impressive, especially on STEM, it clearly shows you’re growing,” Hosseini said. “But once you start going to St. Pete or Sarasota-Manatee, these numbers just fall apart — graduation rates, STEM rates, on and on and on and on. … What can you do to get these (branch campuses) to be like Tampa? Somebody told me you treat them like a stepchild.”
While the Tampa campus has incoming students with an average high school GPA of about 3.93 and has a three-year goal for bringing the statistic up to 3.95, the St. Pete campus has an average high school GPA of 3.5 and a three-year goal of increasing it to 3.65 while the Sarasota-Manatee campus does not have current GPA data available and has a three-year goal of a
3.5 GPA. While the Tampa campus six-year graduation rate is 56 percent and has a three-year goal of 63 percent, the St. Pete campus has a six-year rate of 32 percent with a three-year goal of 35 percent and the Sarasota-Manatee campus does not have data recorded in its workplan.
USF President Judy Genshaft said that while the branch campuses, by design, were intended to be different.
“I brought this to the Board of Governors at this time, and the Board of Governors said these two campuses will be a 6-year campus, not a doctoral degree granting campus,” she said. “So under their charter from the Board of Governors, and under the law by the legislature, these two campuses fulfilled exactly what was asked of them — to become fully accredited, and they have.”
USF Provost Ralph Wilcox said the graduation rates are affected by students transferring between campuses.
“Something that isn’t altogether obvious in graduation rates is that we have many students that start at St. Petersburg and transfer to the Tampa campus to pursue majors that aren’t currently offered, nor would we want to offer duplicative programs that are cost inefficient,” he said. “When a student as a freshman enrolls at USF St. Petersburg and spends her or his first two years there and subsequently transfers to the Tampa campus, we lose that student in the graduation rates for both USF St. Petersburg and USF Tampa. The graduation rates on both campuses are undercounted.”
But other BOG members questioned the basic tenets of the branch campus mission statements.
“The mission statement of Sarasota-Manatee talks about a comprehensive university with ever-increasing national and global impact,” BOG member John Rood said. “Now, I don’t know if the USF board has looked at that vision statement, but there’s nothing about performance numbers of the SATs or graduation rates that suggests that they’re on the path to become a global university. … It seems to me that you’ve got three universities, one of which is performing pretty well in Tampa, but the other two which are behaving more like colleges in our college system.”
BOG member Norman Tripp questioned the function of the USF System.
“The University of South Florida St. Petersburg says their goal is to be the premier, comprehensive university in the Tampa Bay region,” he said. “I’m not sure what that means, but the question is has that come from you down? Are you directing that at them? Are you having any conversation with them? Is there any interplay between their local board and what you’re doing? I heard you say you’re a system.”
“Yes,” Genshaft said. “Yes.”
“Well, I kind of thought we were the system and you were the university,” Tripp said as other members of the board laughed. “So are you competing with us? So we have the State University System and then the University of South Florida System? This is confusing, and I think you need to get your hands around what’s going on.”
“No, we’re not competing with you,” Genshaft said. “No. No.”
Tripp also questioned USF’s decreasing undergraduate student population.
“What are we saying to the public out there?” he asked. “Are we going to make it more difficult for Floridians to get into a university?”12