More than half of Florida's best and brightest high school graduates are staying in Florida for their college education, according to a recent study by the Board of Regents. And, increasingly, they are attending the University of South Florida (USF).
A survey conducted last year indicated the state's most academically talented high school graduates made USF their third choice, after the University of Florida and Florida State University, among universities nationwide.
In a similar study in 1988, USF was seventh choice.
The regents polled parents of 706 recent high school graduates at the top of their class.
Students in the survey group either scored in the top 2 percent of the Scholastic Aptitude Test or had received high academic honors.
The parents based their decisions on "the school's general academic reputation" and "fellowships, scholarships or grants" offered by the schools.
The regents started conducting these surveys in 1986, the year all nine of Florida's public universities began to offer four-year programs, said regents' spokesman Patrick Riordan.
The purpose was to assess the extent of the "brain drain" out of Florida. Before 1986, state education officials feared Florida's top students were pursuing out-of-state educations.
Though well-known schools such as Duke University, Georgia Institute of Technology and Harvard University still attract a large share of Florida's top students, a growing percentage is staying in Florida.
That percentage has grown from 39 percent in 1986 to 51 percent in 1989, according to the study.