TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The University of South Florida will join the ranks of Florida's “pre-eminent” state universities, USF President Judy Genshaft announced Wednesday in her fall address at the Tampa-based school.
Genshaft said USF, which serves more than 49,000 students on three campuses, has met 11 of 12 performance measures set by the state, enough to reach the top tier of the state schools, which now only includes the University of Florida and Florida State University.
“Finally, amazingly, we have reached pre-eminence,” Genshaft told the crowd, which broke into applause and cheers at the Marshall Student Center.
“Since our first student enrolled in 1960, we have turned a well-regarded regional university into one of the top, pre-eminent, public research institutions in the nation,” Genshaft said. “We have become the university that other institutions look up to as an aspirant peer.”
The last measure USF achieved was pushing its six-year graduation rate above 70 percent. The school's graduation rate became a point of contention in the last days of the 2017 legislative session, when a final version of a higher-education bill revamped the graduation metrics putting USF's rise to pre-eminence in doubt. But the bill was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.
A new higher-education bill (SB 4), filed for the 2018 session, would not impact USF's pre-eminence designation in the coming year, although the school will eventually have to meet a 60 percent four-year graduation rate, which would increase from the current 50 percent mark for pre-eminent institutions.
USF's performance, exceeding 11 of the 12 pre-eminence metrics, will have to be certified by the state university system's Board of Governors before the pre-eminent designation becomes official.
The designation will bring not only more prestige but more funding for the university. UF and FSU each received $17.3 million as pre-eminent universities this year, while USF and the University of Central Florida each received $8.7 million as “emerging” pre-eminent schools.
Genshaft said USF's rise to pre-eminence is part of an overall strategy to make the school one of the top public research institutions in the country.
She noted the university generated more than $475 million in research funding in the 2016-17 academic year, a 3.6 increase over the prior year, trailing only the University of Florida in research funding in the system.
The school produces more than 700 doctoral degrees each year and will have raised $1 billion in its “Unstoppable” fund-raising drive by November, a year ahead of schedule, Genshaft said.
The one pre-eminent performance metric where USF fell short was failing to achieve at least a $500 million endowment for the university. But Genshaft provided some context for USF's $441 million endowment, which is at a record level for the school.
“This is an extremely difficult metric for any university, especially one as young as ours,” she said, noting USF ranks third in its endowment size for schools founded after 1950, trailing two institutions in the University of California system.
In other developments Wednesday, Genshaft said USF has been selected by the international Times Higher Education group to host a “Young Universities Summit” in June.
“This attracts education leaders from around the world, but it has never been held in the United States before,” Genshaft said.
Genshaft said work has begun on the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute, a facility that is projected to bring more than 2,200 students and faculty to downtown Tampa when it is completed.
Genshaft also said USF has also completed a preliminary study on building an on-campus football stadium and indoor practice facilities.
In addition, Genshaft said she wants to lead an effort to “rebrand” the school and raise its profile, rather than being “a best kept secret.”
“It's about time our reputation is as strong as our objective performance,” she said.