Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Education

Survival years long gone, University of Tampa riding wave of growth

TAMPA —Two decades ago, the University of Tampa's future was in doubt.

By the mid-1990s, enrollment had sunk below 2,500 students. The university's endowment was stuck near $6 million, with no prospects for bringing in significant funds from donors.

Today, nearly 8,000 students roam the landmark campus in the shadow of downtown Tampa, and the endowment has swelled to $68 million. Last week, the private school announced a $150 million capital campaign. With nearly $135 million already pledged, the goal appears attainable.

"It's gone from wondering whether or not it's going to make it to what you see today," said former Mayor Dick Greco, a UT alum who remembers the campus when it was still partly fairgrounds and Plant Hall didn't have air conditioning.

• • •

The school sparked to life in 1931 as a junior college with 67 students paying $232 a year to attend.

When it became a university in 1933, it moved into the Tampa Bay Hotel —the minaret-topped building now called Plant Hall.

The campus occupies the site of the old Florida State fairgrounds. The soccer stadium sits where rides and attractions used to set up. The technology building was once the petting zoo.

Until 1976, the state fair still was happening on UT's campus.

By the 1990s, the school had added 36 buildings, but enrollment floundered.

Steve Hekkanen, a psychology professor who has worked at UT for 35 years, said the university had seen a steady decline in enrollment, but it hit a sharp drop in the '90s.

In turn, tuition revenue dwindled. The situation was so dire, there was talk of UT folding and the University of South Florida taking over the campus along the Hillsborough River.

"We were finally down so many students that the faculty was getting anxious," Hekkanen said. "We thought, 'Are our jobs coming to an end?' "

January 1995 brought big changes: new president Ronald Vaughn and a new vice president for enrollment, Barbara Strickler.

Vaughn said he made too many changes to count. He tweaked the budget, raised money and held open meetings explaining to faculty that growth, perhaps to 6,000 or 7,000 students, gradually would stabilize the campus.

"There was a number of things to be done, and they had to be done quickly," Vaughn said.

When the millennium hit, enrollment was up to almost 3,500 students.

Amid all the changes were pockets of faculty pushback, Hekkanen said. At the open meetings, faculty raised challenging questions.

About half were opposed to greatly increasing enrollment, Hekkanen said, potentially discouraging students who were looking for a smaller, more attentive environment. Others cared more about survival than class sizes, Hekkanen said.

"The growth would change the nature of the university," he said. "But in terms of stability, it created a tremendous amount of it."

The school, which charges $27,044 for full-time undergraduate tuition, does its best to maintain a 16-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio, said Dennis Nostrand, UT's vice president for enrollment.

"What's really changed is our ability to be much more selective, and much more diverse," Nostrand said. "You could be sitting next to someone from Texas, or California or Ghana, where at the state schools it's usually Florida, or Florida or Florida."

About 18 percent of UT's students are international, and about half come from out of state.

Nostrand said he warns students when they apply that UT isn't a "suitcase college." They're too far away to pack up and go home every weekend.

• • •

It has been two decades since the panic of what Hekkanen calls "the survival years" began to fade.

Vaughn, now in his 21st year as president, plans to focus the remainder of his tenure on steering the new capital funds toward updating old buildings, constructing new ones and, eventually, adding more programs to the curriculum.

In the next six years, Vaughn predicts almost 9,000 students will roam the campus, getting lost in the history and exploring new facilities.

For former alumni such as Greco, who remember the campus in its humbler form, UT's turnaround is nothing short of amazing.

"It's a beautiful place," Greco said, "and a wonderful testament to people recognizing what it could be."

Contact Hanna Marcus at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @hmarcus.

Comments
Fired Hernando school superintendent Lori Romano finds a job in the county next door — Pasco

Fired Hernando school superintendent Lori Romano finds a job in the county next door — Pasco

Lori Romano, fired from the Hernando County superintendent post for "ineffective leadership" a month ago, has snagged a job in the neighboring Pasco County school district.She won’t be nearly as high up the administrative ladder in her new role.Subje...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Artist, advocate, Marine: New Pasco school security director compelled to serve

Artist, advocate, Marine: New Pasco school security director compelled to serve

LAND O’ LAKES — Chris Stowe has a storied past as an explosives technician in the U.S. Marine Corps.The retired master gunnery sergeant has mementos of his service — a field knife mounted to the lid of an explosives box, for instance — hanging promin...
Published: 07/17/18
Members new and old appointed to Pasco-Hernando State College boards

Members new and old appointed to Pasco-Hernando State College boards

Three trustees for Pasco-Hernando State College have been reappointed to their posts by Gov. Rick Scott, and a new member joined the college’s Foundation Board of Directors.The reappointments to the Board of Trustees are Alvaro Hernandez, Lee Maggard...
Published: 07/17/18
Hillsborough training school resource officers during active shooter exercise

Hillsborough training school resource officers during active shooter exercise

DOVER — With the start of classes nearly three weeks away, Hillsborough County school resource officers are receiving extensive active shooter training Tuesday morning to prepare them in the event of another school tragedy.Members of the Hillsborough...
Published: 07/17/18
Teacher on a plane talked about her low-income students. Passengers overheard and gave her more than $500 in cash.

Teacher on a plane talked about her low-income students. Passengers overheard and gave her more than $500 in cash.

Chicago schoolteacher Kimberly Bermudez has always been the chatty type.So when she was on a Southwest Airlines flight to Florida to visit her parents last week, and her seatmate asked her what she did for a living, she told him about her first-grade...
Published: 07/17/18
In District 6, School Board candidates offer ideas on teacher pay, achievement gap and more

In District 6, School Board candidates offer ideas on teacher pay, achievement gap and more

In Pinellas County’s only School Board race without an incumbent, three longtime Pinellas residents — a retired City Council member and coach, a human resources manager and a special education teacher — will duke it out for the District 6 seat. All t...
Published: 07/17/18

New student address verification rules on tap for Pasco schools

Pasco County parents have demanded for more than two years that their school district make sure students are not lying about their addresses. They’ve done so in hopes it might alleviate the need to change attendance zones at crowded schools.They migh...
Published: 07/17/18
Hillsborough headed for a new mark: 25,000 charter school students

Hillsborough headed for a new mark: 25,000 charter school students

TAMPA — Three more charter schools will join the Hillsborough County system this year, pushing the number of students in these tax-funded, but privately operated institutions to well over 10 percent of the enrollment.District officials predict that 2...
Published: 07/13/18
District 3 candidates see challenges and potential for Pinellas schools

District 3 candidates see challenges and potential for Pinellas schools

A three-term incumbent, an educational specialist with a doctorate in school counseling and a teacher with 33 years of classroom experience are vying for the countywide District 3 seat on the Pinellas County School Board.All three have clear ideas on...
Published: 07/12/18

Pasco moms ask school district for more anti-discrimination efforts and training

Sheena Lofton-Huggins saw her son struggle this past year dealing with racism and prejudice at Mitchell High School. He didn’t have all the support he needed, Lofton-Huggins said, or the strategies to stand firm. When she sought to send her son to Co...
Published: 07/11/18