U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and most Pinellas County elected officials are urging University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft to ensure the future success of the downtown St. Petersburg campus as the school makes plans to consolidate its regional campuses into a single accreditation.
In a letter signed by Crist, state Sen. Darryl Rouson, state Reps. Jennifer Webb and Ben Diamond, St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman and every member of the St. Pete City Council and Pinellas County Commission, the group asks that USF expand the St. Pete campus’ educational opportunities in marine science and other STEM fields as well as maintain its business curricula and provide additional educational offering in the arts.
“While we have expressed our concerns with the way in which this decision came about, we recognize that it is in the best interests of the student body and the St. Petersburg community to reach consensus on the campus’ future configuration,” the letter reads.
The letter points to St. Pete’s robust marine and environmental science community. The city is home to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southeast Fisheries Regional Office, The U.S. Geological Survey’s Coastal and Marine Science Center, the Florida Institute of Oceanography, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and several private companies. Together, the industry provides a more than $250 million economic impact to the community.
The letter asks that consolidation efforts and future campus improvements include both graduate and undergraduate programs in marine science, environment and sustainability programs.
The letter also recommends offering other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics majors to broaden the campus’ appeal and complement St. Pete’s emerging Innovation District, which includes the USF campus, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and Bayfront Health, among others.
Crist and the cohort of elected officials also ask Genshaft to consider the implementation of arts programs in any or all of the graphic, fine or digital arts.
The school recently opened its Kate Tiedemann College of Business in a world-class building on the west side of campus. The letter asks USF to ensure its ongoing success within the community.
The Florida Legislature approved consolidating USF’s Sarasota and St. Pete regional campus accreditations into its parent campus’ accreditation during the 2018 Legislative Session.
The move allows the regional campuses to benefit from USF Tampa’s ongoing success and tap into its much more vast financial resources including millions of dollars in extra funding the school will receive as part of achieving statewide preeminent status this year.
But local officials had expressed concerns. St. Pete, in particular, had fought for years for its autonomy after a series of mismanagement missteps left officials at the regional campus feeling slighted.
“We share the desire to boost USF’s standing, and the benefits those rankings bring, but would emphasize that USFSP remain attainable for the diverse array of students that call Pinellas County home,” the letter reads.
Under consolidation, entrance requirements will increase to a 3.8 GPA — far higher than the current 3.0 required for most degree programs. But that requirement will only apply to incoming freshman beginning classes during the fall. Students with lower GPAs will still be able to enroll in other semesters or transfer from other schools like community colleges.
Under the new Florida law, all USF campuses must be accredited singularly by July 1, 2020.