The concept of accommodating the needs of USF students in Pinellas County is gradually becoming a reality.
Although plans to expand and provide a more extensive set of courses farther north of the USF St. Petersburg campus are not yet concrete, officials said they are finding ways to create more classroom space for students in the Clearwater area.
“We are simply exploring the feasibility of better serving the needs of our graduate students, particular, in the northern part of Pinellas County,” said Ralph Wilcox, interim vice president of the St. Pete campus. “So we’re looking for classrooms, faculty, office space, academic support space for advising, registration — that sort of thing — in the location.”
Wilcox said at this time, there is no campus in the Clearwater district to accommodate USF students who live or work near that area.
“The closest USF campus to the (Clearwater) area is downtown St. Petersburg,” Wilcox said. “Depending on the time of the day, it can take anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour and a half to travel to the Clearwater area.”
Wilcox added that they are primarily looking to meet graduate education needs in the College of Business’ MBA programs and the College of Education, for teachers in particular and K-12 school administrators to advance their degree.
Though the plan would not be limited to night classes, it would start out small by offering some graduate courses in the aforementioned fields, Wilcox said.
“Generally, the graduate classes are for those students that are working through the day and looking to advance their careers in Business or in Education,” Wilcox said.
“But we’re certainly not going to limit (the classes) to the nighttime … We know we have students in the northern part of Pinellas County and the surrounding counties like Pasco and Hernando that would indeed like to take classes during the day.”
Wilcox also said the project would, in all probability, be funded by the USF St. Petersburg campus.
“(This project) would probably become an extension of USF St. Petersburg, therefore, the responsibilities in terms of academic, authority and financial responsibility would fall on the shoulders of those at the USF St. Petersburg,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox said the plans to offer a USF curriculum in the Northern Pinellas would most likely call for leasing office space rather than approving construction for new facilities.
“To envision a new university campus and such, it’s a long way off … That’s not to say that it won’t happen one day, but it’s a long way away,” Wilcox said.
The exact location of the site is not yet known.
“If we determine that it is in Downtown Clearwater, then so be it,that’s where we’ll look,” Wilcox said. “If it means that (the students’ best interests) would be met on the Highway 19 corridor, then we’ll move farther east and look.”
At the moment, the space that USF officials are looking at for is approximately 10,000 sq. ft. of usable space for classrooms, faculty offices and academic support and services.
“We would probably be looking at five to six classrooms,” Wilcox said.
In some stage in the future, Wilcox said he would meet with USF President Judy Genshaft and the Board of Trustees to discuss and subsequently get an approval of the project as well.
In the meantime, Wilcox said he is meeting with Clearwater city officials to attempt to solidify the plans to expand.
“We had a couple of meetings with representatives of the city of Clearwater, and we will be continuing those meetings and discussions in the coming weeks,” Wilcox said.