Changes ahead for the student experience after consolidation

After the university officially consolidates in 2020, that state of the student experience could look very different from what it does now. ORACLE FILE PHOTO

Regardless of which colleges and schools are housed on each of USF’s three campuses — Tampa, St. Pete and Sarasota-Manatee — one thing is clear, the student experience as it is known is bound to change after the university consolidates in 2020.

One of the first on-campus experiences new students have is Orientation.

According to Paul Dosal, the vice president of Student Affairs and Student Success, discussing changes to Orientation may be preemptive, but are in the works.

He said that the main factor to take into consideration when planning a post-consolidation Orientation is which colleges and schools are housed on each campus. The idea is for the Orientation on each campus is to be uniform in some areas, such as the financial aid sessions, but unique in others.

According to Dean of Students Danielle McDonald, who helps lead a workgroup tasked with designing what Student Affairs may look like post-consolidation, Student Government (SG) may remain unchanged.

As of now, SG has separate but fully-operational governing bodies for each campus.

A committee comprised of SG representatives from each campus oversee things like communication between their counterparts and appointing a representative to the Board of Trustees.

Though, SG from each campus will have to work together in one new area — a single constitution.

“The other consideration is that we do work off of one constitution for all three campuses, so there will be some work that they will need to do to come together on that, but then to have procedures that meet the needs of the three campuses individually,” McDonald said.

Dosal clarified that the term being used for the changes is “considerations” not “recommendations,” because it is less definitive and concrete.

“There are so many variables that will impact what can and should be done later. Fees … are absolutely critical,” Dosal said. “Depending upon what is done, we might have to keep things as they are, or we might have to change them. Given these uncertainties, this is all we can do now.”

The fees in question are the Activity and Service (A&S) fees, which each student pays in their tuition.

Currently, the A&S fees paid by a student remain for use solely at their respective campus.

According to McDonald, it has not yet been decided if the fees will remain like this, or if all of the student fees will be put in one space to then be distributed among the three campuses.

She said since the majority of consolidation decisions will be made by 2020, budgeting decisions for that year, including how and where to distribute student fees, will be made in 2019.

Dosal said the decision of fee distribution is not an easy task.

“In our group, there is a lot of sentiment that because we want to make sure students have access to the same quality services and activities across the three (campuses), that there is a strong sentiment in favor of a uniform fee structure,” Dosal said.

However, with the idea of equal access to activities and services, the issue of transportation to and from each campus arises.

“There is a lot of talk that (developing a mode of transportation to and from each campus) might be a high priority,” Dosal said. “Can we make a Bull Runner service to link the three (campuses)? We will need to have WiFi on the bus so that we can do some work while we are waiting in traffic. All those things have to be decided before we can move forward.”

One area where change seems to be inevitable is Student Publications. Currently, Tampa has their own newspaper, The Oracle, and St. Pete has The Crow’s Nest.

That could change, however, as there have been discussions among the workgroup about merging the two publications into one.

Though the majority of consolidation plans have to be in place by the fall of 2020, McDonald said there is no rush to implement changes to Student Publications. The idea is to see how the publications operate separately post-consolidation and taking student and reader opinions into consideration before making the change.

According to Dosal, the idea that has been pushed forward by his subcommittee is to “explore a fully-online newspaper.”

Another area where changes seem imminent is Greek life.

McDonald said that consolidation may bring more opportunity for involvement in fraternities and sororities.

“The consideration for that is that we open up and all three campuses can get involved with fraternities and sororities, still housed at the Tampa campus,” McDonald said. “What that will mean is that organizations are going to have to figure out how to structure a little differently. They are going to have to make better use of technology, where chapter meetings may be done through Zoom now.”

In McDonald’s mind, Homecoming currently acts as a standard bearer when it comes to what the student experience will look like after consolidation.

“Homecoming happens on all three campuses, there is a planning committee that involves all three campuses, but there are still individualized programming that happens on each of the three campuses that are tradition and we do not want that to go away,” McDonald said. “But, we want to open up the access to see those.

“The St. Pete sailboat race that they do at homecoming is really cool and we could not do that on this campus. (We want) to be able to open that up to more students to be able to see.”

Though, Dosal said that all considerations are still subject to change.

“These considerations are probably going to be changing over time as some of these other things fall into place,” Dosal said. “The conversations are likely to get more difficult. There are hard, hard decisions.”

For McDonald, consolidation comes down to one simple thing: change. And, in her mind, the need to embrace it.

“It will take change, but I think all three campuses are going to have to change, and be prepared to change, how they have done things for the past many years,” McDonald said.