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University Beat

USF St. Petersburg Officials Discuss Enrollment Issues, College of Ed Cuts

Sign on side of building
University of South Florida St. Petersburg
The USF St. Petersburg Campus Advisory Board met to discuss issues Thursday.

Enrollment at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus has been a concern ever since consolidation was passed by Florida lawmakers in 2018.

The USF St. Petersburg Campus Advisory Board met Thursday to discuss the issue, as well as talk about initiatives being considered to address the problem.

The Tampa Bay Times reports St. Petersburg lawmakers like Mayor Rick Kriseman and State Sen. Jeff Brandes have raised concerns about the effect consolidation is having on the regional campus.

Officials report that overall enrollment at USF St. Petersburg campus for the current semester is down nearly 20% since Fall 2016. By way of comparison, the Tampa campus has seen a 4.5% gain, while Sarasota-Manatee enrollment is up a little over a tenth of a percent.

In addition, the number of first-time-in-college (FTIC) students enrolling at USF St. Petersburg is down more than 36% from fall 2016 and 30% at USF Sarasota-Manatee, but up 30% at the Tampa campus.

Provost Ralph Wilcox called it a “leaky pipeline of students.”

“USF St. Petersburg has been seeing a steady, and I have to say, disappointing decline in headcount since the fall of 2017,” said Wilcox.

He also said the university’s institution of a single set of admissions criteria across all three campuses in 2018 meant fewer qualified students applied to USF in that year and the following one.

two charts
USF St. Petersburg
A pair of charts shows that while the academic performance of first-time-in-college (FTIC) students across USF campuses is increasing, the number of such students enrolling has fallen dramatically at the St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campuses since 2016.

However, Wilcox also pointed out that USF St. Petersburg saw an increase of almost 100 FTIC students between fall of 2019 and this year. That was helped when more than 100 students were moved from the Tampa campus to St. Petersburg.

In hopes of addressing the problem, the university is working on a number of short and long-term solutions.

“We're devoting time and effort to long term strategic planning; 10 year, five years, three year, one year time horizons,” assured USF President Steve Curall, “So we're in that process now and working toward articulating a document in the next few months that will shed further light on the future vision for the university.”

Wilcox also said that the university is working with eight community colleges in the greater Tampa Bay region where students will study for two years before transferring to USF to complete their degrees.

USF St. Petersburg campus Regional Chancellor Martin Tadlock pointed out such a program specific to his campus: a partnership with St. Petersburg College called Pinellas Access to Higher Education, or PATHe.

“We have three education counselors working in the public schools, with families and students, to help them prepare to go beyond high school and pursue post-secondary education, regardless of where that is,” said Tadlock, who said over sixty students are enrolled in the PATHe program.

“Basically, it's like they are our student, even though they're attending St. Pete College, because they are coming to USF when they finish their time (there).”

In addition, there are concerns specifically about the number of Black students USF St. Petersburg is admitting. Citing university figures, student newspaper The Crow’s Nest reported earlier this month that the number of Black FTIC students was 17 in the summer, and only one in the fall.

USF Assistant Director of Outreach and Access Malcom Randolph said the university has implemented several programs and partnerships to increase enrollment of students they refer to as “talented and underrepresented.”

“We expanded to the St. Petersburg campus to offer a student success program at USF, which is strategically created to attract and give students access who may not generally have access based on household income, as well as first generation students,” said Randolph.

The advisory board also heard community response to the announcement last week that it will shut down its College of Education undergraduate program on all three campuses.

Pinellas County School Superintendent Michael Grego told board members the move came as a surprise to local school leaders, alumni, and community members.

“We all strongly, strongly believe that the decision of closing an undergraduate teacher preparation program is a terrible mistake and it's going to negatively impact...closer to 50,000 teachers in this region and our need for teachers in the Tampa Bay region,” he said.

Grego added, as an administrator, he understands that USF needs to make state-mandated budget cuts, but proposes there could be an alternative solution to completely cutting the program.

“For years, we've seen the college struggle ... with a revolving door of leadership. We've had six deans in Tampa and five deans in St. Petersburg over the last 10 years,” Grego said, “and as a result, there's been really no significant traction or improvements in either the undergraduate or graduate program.”

To help reinvent the College of Education, Grego encouraged university officials to hire committed leadership and, rather than focus on admission test scores, admit students who have a genuine passion for teaching.

“USF is not abandoning teacher education, rather, we are seeking to reimagine and reconfigure the College of Education” said Wilcox. “In the face of significant enrollment declines and budget challenges, we believe that our talented faculty and staff in the College of Education can best serve the needs of our community.”

The advisory board members expressed a desire to further discuss these issues at upcoming meetings.

It’s believed that the USF Board of Trustees will also talk about them at their next set of committee meetings Nov. 10, as well as at their regular board meeting Dec. 8.