An unexpected change to the Pre-eminent State Research Universities Program, proposed by the Florida Legislature, has the ability to set back USF roughly three years in the university’s quest of reaching pre-eminent status.
Since 2013, Florida universities have been presented with the objective of reaching pre-eminence. Pre-eminent universities receive equal shares of $48 million for this year through state funding when 11 of the 12 benchmarks are achieved. Benchmarks include freshmen retention rate, national rankings and timely graduation rates.
As of June 2016, USF had been firmly designated as an emerging pre-eminent state research university after reaching six of the 12 benchmarks.
Early in the 2017 Florida Senate session, a 70 percent six-year graduate rate was replaced by a 50 percent four-year graduation rate. This change would have secured USF’s pre-eminence had it remained.
On May 5, the final day of the Senate session, lawmakers unexpectedly opted to increase the four-year graduation rate required for pre-eminence from 50 percent to 60 percent. For the last recorded year, USF had a 54 percent four-year graduate rate and does not expect to reach the new standard of 60 percent until 2019, according to USF Provost Ralph Wilcox.
The fact that the required graduation rate was changed on the final session day, before a weekend and three days before final voting on the bill, seems like a direct stab to the momentum USF has been working to build.
“Not only were we and other universities surprised by this, and the Board of Governors was surprised by this, but the majority of our legislative delegation of the Tampa Bay region had no knowledge of this happening,” Wilcox said.
According to a letter sent by USF Board of Trustees Chair Brian Lamb, no one at USF or most local legislators were aware this change was coming.
These two influential members of the USF community were blindsided by the new requirement. After becoming aware of the legislative change USF sent out an email urging the Tampa Bay region to contact their legislators and voice their rejection of the change.
Thousands of USF supporters responded to the call to action, but given such a short warning period little could be done to rectify the setback.
Multiple senators have since made comments that the increased requirement was not targeted at USF, that no one should “count their chickens before they hatch” and that pre-eminence is not a status universities should feel entitled to. However, USF was the only university directly affected by the change.
Naturally, lawmakers are able to change legislation at any point during the Senate season, but it is the sudden nature of the change that stripped USF of $11 million and a spot to join UF and FSU as a pre-eminent university that USF supporters feel was suspicious. Tampa Chamber of Commerce Chairman Mike Griffin has stated he has plans to bring USF’s case to Gov. Rick Scott in hopes that the governor will veto the bill.
Tea Piro is a senior majoring in mass communications.