University’s satellite campuses take off

Two of USF’s satellite campuses may soon follow the path of USF St. Petersburg and seek separate accreditation.

Proponents said separate accreditation will be more efficient than the current system and it will better suit the educational needs of specific regions. They are also confident the satellites won’t encounter the same problems at USF St. Petersburg, whose accreditation was challenged this fall.

The decision was made during a Board of Trustees workgroup meeting Jan. 17, when board members voted in favor of a proposition for separate accreditation for USF Lakeland and USF Sarasota/Manatee.

Talk of separate accreditation, however, has been largely overshadowed by talk of budget cuts, as an additional state-mandated 3.8 percent cut to the University’s baseline budget was officially announced at the meeting.

The plan for separate accreditations is long standing, predating the budgetary woes now plaguing the state, and is based on a plan that has been developed over time with a variety of faculty and student groups both in Tampa and all the regional campuses, said USF Provost Ralph Wilcox. The plan is in keeping with state law.

Florida statute requires that USF Lakeland and Sarasota/Manatee pursue separate accreditation. The move is driven by the University’s requirement to meet state statutory guidelines, Wilcox said.

The issue will go before the full Board of Trustees on March 6. If it passes, both campuses will follow in the footsteps of USF St. Petersburg, which gained separate accreditation in June 2006.

“It’s a good thing for the diverse communities that the University of South Florida serves, and it’s a good thing for the diverse needs that these campuses serve,” Wilcox said.

“Different communities have different needs. What this provides is the opportunity for each of the campuses to develop their own mission that meets the needs of the communities that they serve,” he said.

“One could fairly assume that the community in Lakeland and Polk County has a very different set of needs than the community in Hillsborough County. That’s why we have a school of hotel and restaurant management in Sarasota,” Wilcox said.

“We have a master’s degree of journalism (program) in St. Petersburg next to the Poynter Institute. It makes sense to have it there; it doesn’t make sense to have a competing program in Tampa.”

If the motion passes, only one of the campuses – the Tampa campus – will be doctoral degree-granting while the primary focus of the regional campus will be to grant degree and professional master’s degrees.

In addition, the regional campuses will award their own diplomas, as USF St. Petersburg currently does.

Certain functions of the University’s campuses will remain centralized. The Research Office, General Counsel, Office of Audit and Compliance and the Intercollegiate Alliance will all remain centralized at the Tampa Campus, Wilcox said.

The structure being proposed at USF is not unlike other multi-campus, public, metropolitan research universities across the country, said Wilcox. Schools like Ohio State University and the University of Michigan generally have a research campus and separate regional campuses that award their own degrees.

USF Lakeland Vice President and CEO Marshall Goodman emphasized that separate accreditation does not mean the campuses will become universities.

“Independence is not – and never has been – the goal. The issue that has been raised is autonomy, which is not the same thing as independence,” he said.

“We are not interested in separating from USF. That doesn’t make sense for us – for the University, for our faculty and staff and, most of all, for our students.”

Goodman said the issue of autonomy relates to certain levels of local control over programming and staffing decisions.

“We feel that, as the regional campuses mature, it makes sense for us to follow the sort of model that has been developed elsewhere,” he said.

Goodman favors campus-level decisions on academic programs and the recruitment, promotion and tenure process for faculty. USF Lakeland would continue to be fully accountable to the President and to the USF Board of Trustees, Goodman said.

Vice President and CEO of USF Sarasota/Manatee Arthur Guilford said his campus had begun preparing for separate accreditation. Guilford said USF Sarasota/Manatee has begun work on its assessment phase of its accreditation process and has also begun the process of revamping its vision and mission.

“The model that we are moving to is one that is used across the country, where one campus may have a certain emphasis while others support other interests. We, for example, will continue to teach upper division undergraduate educational experiences and graduate programs,” he said.

Separate accreditation, Guilford said, is a cost-efficient system. USF Sarasota/Manatee, Lakeland and St. Petersburg will retain centralized services – such as legal services and lobbying at the State and Federal levels – but it will give all three regional campuses more autonomy to develop according to regional needs.

Guilford said that it will also enable the schools to respond to requests from their regions more quickly, and give the schools more control over the types of programs that are offered and an increased ability to be responsive to local needs.

Karen White, USF St. Petersburg regional chancellor, said the recent accreditation issues facing USF St. Petersburg were related to evidence of competencies in general education and demonstration of success with respect to student achievement like course completion, state licensing exams and job placement rates. In response to the concerns voiced by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, USF St. Petersburg will refine documentation of data and submit further evidence of compliance to SACS in April.

“The regional campuses of the USF system offer students access to high quality academic programs,” she said.

“Each institution offers unique programmatic offerings that respond to the economic, educational, cultural, and social service needs of the communities in which they are located.”