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USF may start new college for top talent

The University of South Florida board of trustees is expected to approve today a new honors college that should help the university recruit more high-achieving students.

The college would have its own dean, faculty and a rigorous, specially designed degree program. The idea grows out of the honors program established at USF in 1983, but would take the concept several steps further.

"The message is, "If you're a very serious, high-achieving student, we're going to challenge you. We're going to put you in the research lab like a Ph.D. student,' " said Stuart Silverman, director of the USF honors program since 1987.

If approved, the college would be established in the fall and based at the main campus in Tampa.

Enrollment is projected to reach 2,000 within five years, up from the 1,300 students now enrolled in the honors program. Officials said costs for the new college would be minimal, at least initially.

The honors program began nearly two decades ago with 20 students. Officials have talked about expanding the program for years, with varying levels of seriousness. But it didn't move off the wish list until USF president Judy Genshaft made it a priority after taking office two years ago.

"My area of expertise is gifted and talented students," Genshaft said. "Last year, I took a look at the program and said, "This is great. Now why isn't it a college?' "

The establishment of an honors college could help USF overcome the loss of New College, the nationally renowned honors program in Sarasota that the Legislature converted to an independent university. USF officials say their plan was in the works before New College broke off last year, and the two institutions cater to very different student populations.

An honors college would almost certainly enhance USF's academic reputation, an important consideration as its continues shedding its past image as a commuter school.

"This could make them much more competitive," said Robert Franek of the Princeton Review, which rates colleges and universities around the nation. "This can be a tremendous recruiting tool."

Franek said most top-tier universities don't establish honors colleges. "They don't have to," he said. "With their longstanding reputations, they're already getting those students."

But Franek said the move makes sense for an up-and-coming institution such as USF, which must compete to attract top students.

In Florida, honors colleges already exist at Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University, the University of Central Florida and New College. Twenty or so others exist at universities around the United States.

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