If the Board of Governors (BOG) decides to separate USF Polytechnic from the USF System, it wouldn’t be the first time the University lost a regional campus.
During recent BOG and Board of Trustees meetings, Regional Chancellor Marshall Goodman of the Polytechnic campus compared the potential transition to past campuses that left the USF System – USF Fort Myers and USF New College.
However, both faced different challenges than USF Polytechnic.
USF Polytechnic is located about 40 miles from the USF Tampa campus and about 70 miles from UCF.
USF Fort Myers, established in 1974, held its classes roughly 10 miles from the site chosen for Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) at Edison Community College.
FGCU spokeswoman Susan Evans said the Florida Board of Regents, which oversaw the State University System (SUS) at the time, voted to create a 10th university, which was approved in 1991.
“Our (situation) is a little bit different than what has been considered for USF Polytechnic,” she said. “In our region (at the time) … the closest state university was 150 miles away – either USF Tampa to the north or (Florida International University) in Miami over to the east. So we were in southwest Florida, a large geographic part of the state that was un-served (by) a university. That’s why a decision was a made to create a 10th university and to locate it in southwest Florida.”
Evans, who was among the first five hired for FGCU planning, said USF Fort Myers was discontinued in 1997, the year FGCU opened. The remaining students who transferred from the branch graduated in spring 1999.
“For the students who were already at USF Fort Myers for the first two years that we were open … we gave them the option of getting a USF degree or a Florida Gulf Coast University degree,” she said. “But that was only for two years and after that any students who graduate from FGCU, of course, there was no choice. You just got an FGCU degree.”
New College spokesman Jake Hartvigsen said New College had three phases. It was established as a private institution in 1960, but faced financial difficulties in the 1970s. In 1975, New College joined the USF system, and in 2001 became the 11th Florida public university.
“We were always kind of unique under the (USF) System,” he said. “We were still an autonomous honors college within the USF System and so graduates of New College still received degrees that said New College of the University of South Florida. We still had some special exceptions on how admission standards were higher than for the main USF campus.”
Hartvigsen said the transition to an independent university was different from the transition into the USF system.
“USF, at that time, had been looking to extend its services into the Sarasota-Bradenton area,” he said. “New College presented a good opportunity there. From New College’s standpoint, we benefited from USF, who had funding from the state. USF had this administrative infrastructure so we were able to transition into that and it happened pretty seamlessly. When we came in through the other pipe in 2001 … all of a sudden we had to build these administrative structures … that had been done by (USF) for us for 26 years.”
When it comes to USF Polytechnic’s possible independence, it is a “complex equation,” Hartvigsen said.
“I think that the model (would be) more akin to USF Polytechnic would be the Florida Gulf Coast model more than the New College model because I think that … they are schools who have been allowed to develop from the ground up,” he said.
The initiative for USF Polytechnic to separate began when Polk County community leaders sent a list of possible economic benefits from a split to BOG chairwoman Ava Parker in July. BOG members discussed the initiative with Goodman during their September meeting but requested more information to make a decision by their Nov. 9-10 meeting at Florida Atlantic University.
The total operating budget for FGCU’s 1997-98 school year, the first year it opened, was $45.6 million.
The total operating budget for New College in the 2000-01 school year, the final year it was under the USF umbrella, was $10.5 million and in 2001-02 it was $11.1 million – where $500,000 was appropriated by the SUS to assist in its transition.
According to the St. Petersburg Times, Lakeland’s new campus, which is envisioned as a high-tech model by architect Santiago Calatrava on YouTube, will be located closer to Interstate 4, which links the University of Central Florida (UCF) and USF Tampa. USF Polytechnic officials said they believe initial structure costs will range from $90 to $100 million, while the fees for Calatrava cost $7.4 million, according to the Times. The YouTube video cost $140,000.
Evans said if a transition were to occur for Polytechnic, community support is important.
“I know that at FGCU … there are some degree programs that would not be here if we did not have private donors who made gifts to the university,” she said. “I think that the extent that your community can support, and does support, your institution influences how rapidly you can develop into a comprehensive university. I think we’ll just have to wait and see what the Legislature and Board of Governors decide.”