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USF enacting tougher admissions requirements

High school students hoping to attend USF will have to perform better than their predecessors, as the University continues its recent trend of being more selective.

Since 2003, the average freshman high school GPA has inflated significantly, while the percentage of applicants admitted has dwindled. This year’s class illustrates – possibly more that any in the University’s history – how much USF’s academic landscape has taken a turn upward.

“Let’s just say we’re not moving in the wrong direction,” Director of Admissions Bob Spatig said.

A trend has developed at USF’s admissions office. As the state’s second largest public university, USF receives thousands of applications every year. Not in recent history has it accepted such a small percentage.

“The standards have risen ,so much (that) there’s a lot more pressure,” said freshman Shawn Mummert, who said he had a 4.0 GPA in high school. “I almost didn’t get in.”

Sixty-eight percent of those who applied in 2003 gained admission to USF. In 2004, that number fell to 59 percent. This fall, it dropped to 51. In other words, just three years ago, more than two-thirds of applicants were admitted while barely half of this semester’s roughly 12,000 freshman applicants were accepted.

“Things are changing, obviously,” Spatig said.

The average GPA of this year’s freshman class jumped to 3.61, compared to 3.53 last year. While the average SAT score dropped three points from 1134 in 2005 to 1131 in 2006, the national average dropped seven points.

“First and foremost, we’re looking at high school performance, and how rigorous their curriculum was,” he said. “We’re looking at students who are most likely to graduate in four years.”

Whether it’s accurate or whether it’s fair, USF has a reputation of accepting students that schools such as University of Florida and Florida State University reject, or automatically accepting students who dropped out of those universities.

But that appears to be in the past, Spatig said.

“If you look at the numbers, they belie that,” Spatig said. “It’s not a guarantee to get into USF anymore.”

In turn, the University hopes to attract more prestigious professors and increase its research funding. More importantly, at least for students and alumni, a degree with University of South Florida written across it will be more valuable.

USF received a record $310 million in research grants this year (UF was the only state school to receive more research grant money) and that, accompanied with the athletic program’s move into the Big East, makes the University more visible and recognizable than ever, which can only benefit both current and former students.

“The more we get that type of recognition, the more employers will recognize the value and the experience of that degree,” Spatig said.

It’s hard to say whether this year’s class is USF’s most academically prestigious because the state recently revamped its academic calculations and evaluations, Spatig said. But Glen Besterfield, a former faculty member and assistant dean of undergraduate studies who has been affiliated with USF for 17 years, says USF has never been more selective than it is now.

“For the past five years or so, (selectivity) has been increasing,” Besterfield said. “There’s just been an emphasis to recruit students who can succeed, students who are most likely to graduate in four years.”

USF will never be a Harvard or a Stanford but, according to Besterfield, things should only improve.

“We’re trying to be ourselves and become a great university,” Besterfield said. “Are we there yet? Probably not. We can always be better. But we’re almost there.”