INTO program exceeds academic, enrollment expectations

After a 2010-11 academic year that exceeded expectations, INTO USF is preparing to increase its enrollment for the fall semester.

INTO USF, a partnership between USF and United Kingdom-based company INTO, recruits students from around the world to attend USF in an academic program designed specifically for international students. INTO USF Director Glen Besterfield said INTO USF’s Board of Directors approved a fall enrollment target of 690 students – up from the 510 students enrolled last spring.

He said deposits from students planning to attend in the fall are currently being collected.

“We monitor the applications as they’re coming in,” Besterfield said. “Students confirm by depositing with us. We’re able to track all that on a daily or weekly basis, and all indications are that we will be anywhere from 600 to 800 (students).”

Provost Ralph Wilcox, who sits on the INTO Board of Directors, said the board has spoken about creating INTO centers on USF’s regional campuses, though an expansion plan for the Tampa campus is already in place.

“I think eventually at Tampa we’ll cap it at 1,500 new students annually to the INTO USF center,” he said.

Yet expanding enrollment raises concerns about space. Besterfield said INTO USF “barely” has enough space to accommodate the expected number of fall students and would “be in trouble” if the program exceeded 700 students.

The program may need to try “creative scheduling” or hire additional faculty to accommodate the growth, he said. INTO USF does not currently offer night classes, but they have hired 10 new permanent faculty members in anticipation of the fall semester.

Besterfield said he wants to prepare for the upcoming semester “proactively” rather than “reactively” – as was the case in the fall 2010 semester, when the program planned for 330 yet enrolled 460 students at the beginning of the semester. Between the fall and spring, additional adjunct faculty members were hired to accommodate the influx.

“I don’t want to be in the position where we have all these students and we’re not prepared,” he said. “We have suffered from growing pains. We’ve grown too big too fast. There are difficulties associated with that, space being one of them.”

Wilcox said the program’s facilities will eventually be expanded and plans are already underway to create a new INTO USF center.

“We have actually been working with our School of Architecture students – interestingly the School of Architecture will have (an INTO USF academic program) next year, so the wonderful story is some of those students could be responsible for building their own center, so we have a design,” Wilcox said. “We haven’t finalized selection of the site, and we haven’t finalized design.”

The project is self-sustaining and will be funded by INTO USF, he said.

Despite space constraints and classroom sizes that were larger than advertised – Besterfield said classes were designed for 14 students, but were closer to 17 – INTO USF’s Pathways program exceeded expectations academically last school year.

Students must complete the two-semester Pathways program, which prepares international students for the U.S. education system, before enrolling in degree-seeking courses at USF. Though only 80 percent of students who initially enrolled in the program during the fall 2010 semester were projected to complete it, 86 percent were able to start taking University classes, Besterfield said.

He said INTO USF is helping the 14 percent that could not complete the program enter other institutions, such as Hillsborough Community College.

“All students won’t make it, just like a freshman class, some students won’t make it,” Besterfield said. “We’ll work with any of the students to see if we can help place them. They came to the United States. If they didn’t succeed here, then there may be other institutions in the United States they might succeed at.”

Though the “86 percent progression rate is incredibly impressive,” Wilcox said he would like to see 90 percent of Pathways students complete the program and matriculate into the University with the “scholarly aptitude to succeed.”

The benefits of the program’s growth are not exclusive to international students. Wilcox said he expects INTO USF to be a fundraiser for the University as a whole.

“We expect this program to yield a healthy profit, a profit that will be distributed 50-50 (between INTO and USF),” he said. “Of course, the 50 percent distributed to the University of South Florida cannot turn a profit because we are a not-for-profit institution. We will reinvest it into the University to hire more professors, which benefits all of our students, and, for instance, improve the quality of the Library.”