USF pledges to help Teaching Academy students

When the Urban Teaching Academy program appeared to be in peril Monday, USF President Judy Genshaft pledged to help all involved high school students have the opportunity to attend college.

The academy, a program started in 2008 by the Hillsborough County School District with a federal grant, pledged to cover the full costs of college tuition, fees and books for all students willing to return to Hillsborough County and teach for three years in inner-city schools upon graduation.

But, according to the Tampa Bay Times, as of last week the school district had only raised $17,000 for its first class of 31 students preparing to graduate high school in May. According to the USF website, 15 credit hours at USF Tampa for an in-state student cost an estimated $2,865.90 per semester for tuition alone.

During a Hillsborough County School Board meeting Tuesday, School District Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said no promises have been broken, and that Genshaft, as well as Hillsborough Community College President Ken Atwater, pledged their support in helping students in the program.

They will work with us and the students and help them in terms of scholarships, she said. I anticipate with those two partners, we will meet all promises. We think this is a win for our students.

University spokesman Michael Hoad said while Genshaft values the program, her pledge to help was not a guarantee of scholarship funds from USF or any other source.

(Genshaft) thinks its an important program and a good program, he said. The school district is a good partner for us. She had been talking to MaryEllen Elia about how to help the students as they get out of the program and go onto USF. She wanted to direct the financial aid people at USF to the students. She wasnt saying everyone has a new scholarship. What she was saying was that USF does in fact have many different types of scholarships.

Hoad said USF would seek out students from the program who have been accepted to USF and ensure that they receive attention from Financial Aid officers to connect them with scholarships they may be eligible for.

Theres no question that most of the students who go through the academy would be eligible for Bright Futures anyway, he said. There are a lot of mechanisms in place to make sure that these students get the support they need once they get into USF. What (Genshaft) was saying was that well make the effort to ensure that if theyre supposed to, they get Bright Futures, or if theyre first generation in college, they get the first generation scholarship money. It was that she would help them make their way through the USF scholarship process and be successful.

Stephen Hegarty, communications officer for the school district, said though some have questioned why the school district has not raised more than $17,000, the situation is not as clear cut as it may seem. Some academy students are attending community colleges with lower costs, while some may no longer wish to commit to the program.

I have two sons, both out of college now, he said. If you had come to me at any point and said, So do you have all the money you need to send your sons to college now? I would have said, No. They could have easily said, But you told your kids years ago youd send them if they studied real hard, and got into the college they got into. But if you were to say, You lied to them, thats not the case. We fully intend to meet all our commitments, whether or not we have all the money in the bank now, and some of that may be through working with President Genshaft or President Atwater.

Hoad said Genshaft and the University value the Hillsborough County School System, which they partner with on several research initiatives.

The University does care very much about what happens in the K-12 system, he said. If you really want to solve (science, technology, engineering and math) STEM, it starts in the K-12 system. If you want to encourage people to be readers, it starts in the K-12 system. Theres a lot that we, as a University, have an obligation to do to be good partners with the school systems.