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No need to forsake USF mission for improvements

Since Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist began working on plans to improve the neighborhoods that surround the university, members of the community have adamantly voiced their support.

USF President Judy Genshaft called the area an innovation zone in her 2010 fall address. With recent and upcoming changes to neighborhoods surrounding the university, it is important for leaders to maintain focus on its overall mission and value: student education.

Mike Merrill, the Hillsborough County administrator, encouraged the change to attract and maintain high-quality students. An improved community would lead to a stronger, more resilient economy, which would therefore attract more students. An increase in student demand would allow the university to be more selective in its search for students.

The revival idea is not a new one, and residents of the community have voiced their skepticism. Moreover, a change will not be easy given the significant rates of poverty and crime in the area. Last year, 147 vehicle robberies and 316 residential burglaries occurred in the area between Fowler Avenue to the south and Bearss Avenue to the north, and east of Interstate 275 and west of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office.

After Genshafts 2010 address, leaders of the university began contacting local stakeholders to determine who had an interest in the idea. The nonprofit Tampa Innovation Alliance was formed, including USF and three other organizations. Now, the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation will also collaborate with the nonprofit.

Despite the fact that an improvement to the area would definitely lead to a betterment of the community, the cost of such a change to the university is still undetermined. With budget cuts of $36.9 million and the potential for reforms to state universities by Gov. Rick Scotts newly-created Blue Ribbon Task Force on State Higher Education Reform, USF cant afford to lose any more resources.

Using the university as a beacon of improvement may not be a terrible idea. Not only would it improve the local area, but it would also draw attention to the university and allow it to shine further.

However, when such uses deprive the university of resources that could be better served to improve classes or teaching facilities, decision makers should be wary of deviating from the goal.

A change to the surrounding area would benefit local businesses and help the economy and area thrive, but potential repercussions on the university and student education must be observed. Leaders should be cautious not to place the need to make an impact above the education of the student body.