For the first time in its almost forty year history, undergraduate freshmen will be attending University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.
Until last year, USFSM was an 'upper-division transfer university,' offering two-year baccalaureate degrees, as well as master's degrees. In 2012, the school began accepting sophomores, and this year, the campus is welcoming its inaugural batch of freshmen.
It's just the latest step in the evolution of the school, which received independent accreditation in 2011. USFSM Regional Chancellor Arthur Guilford said that making the school a comprehensive four-year university will help meet an unmet demand in the area.
"We were losing an enormous number of students because they wanted a university experience, and even if they had to go to Tampa to get that university experience or to Fort Myers to get that university experience, they weren't coming back to Sarasota or Manatee," he said. "So this way, I think we're not going to have the 'brain drain' that we were once having."
Of the 392 students who applied to be members of the class of 2017, 135 were accepted (33%) and 85 formally enrolled. They boast an average GPA of 3.59, average SAT (reading and math) score of 1093 and composite ACT score of 24.
Most come from the Tampa Bay area, particularly Charlotte, Sarasota and Manatee counties. But some students are coming in from out of state, like Hannah Veitkus, a Kansas City, Kansas, native who graduated from high school in England. She said the small class size promised at USFSM was one of the reasons she chose the school.
"I went to a really small high school and I've gone to small schools growing up," said Veitkus, who plans to major in Psychology with a minor in Biology. "There's something about the intimacy of a small school, getting to know people and really getting to know your teachers on a one-on-level, that was really appealing to me, it's something I wanted to continue from my previous education."
Veitkus, who worked at the beach volleyball venue of the 2012 London Summer Olympics, added that she's looking forward to being a member of the first USFSM freshman class.
"It's nice to know that I'm part of something that is taking the baby steps for other people to follow behind, in the sense that, we get to lead the way for all the other freshmen who get to come through, which is really exciting," she said.
But unlike her counterparts at USF Tampa and USF St. Petersburg, Veitkus and her classmates will have to make their own housing arrangements, as USF Sarasota-Manatee does not have on-campus residence halls. Veitkus plans on living with her 94-year-old grandmother in Venice.
Guilford said that while the long-term plan for the campus includes places for students to live, that's still at least two to three years away.
"I'm looking right now at a public-private partnership, quite frankly, I don't have the money to open a residence hall now," Guilford said with a wry smile. "Every penny of money that we have we're putting into building the highest quality academic programs."
USF Sarasota-Manatee is offering the students a new General Education curriculum, as well as STEM programs based in state-of-the-art science labs located at the nearby Mote Marine laboratory.
One thing they won't have is traffic lights at the three entrance to the campus on U.S. Highway 41.
Despite ongoing efforts by students and school administrators, Guilford said state officials still haven't approved any traffic controls along a stretch of road that has seen three deaths, seven accidents and hundreds of near-misses since the campus' construction in 2005.
"According to the Florida Department of Transportation, we don't have enough traffic to warrant a light," Guilford said. "If this were a K-12 school, we would have a traffic light if we had five cars a day coming and going from campus."
With the new freshmen, USF Sarasota-Manatee will serve about 45-hundred undergraduate and graduate students a year on campus and online.