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USF’s climb through the decade made it a top Florida school

The University of South Florida enters the 2020s as a research powerhouse with high-level students, record-breaking gifts and plenty of praise.
The University Student Center at USF St. Petersburg is one of many improvements across the USF system over the last decade. With a new president and elevated status as a "preeminent" Florida university, the school is walking with more swagger these days. [CHRIS URSO   |   TIMES]
The University Student Center at USF St. Petersburg is one of many improvements across the USF system over the last decade. With a new president and elevated status as a "preeminent" Florida university, the school is walking with more swagger these days. [CHRIS URSO | TIMES]
Published Dec. 27, 2019

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series that examines how Tampa Bay has changed in the past decade. We will publish one story a day until Dec. 31. Read the whole package here.

The University of South Florida is entering a new era, and not just because it’s the end of a decade.

The school has hit goal after goal over the last 10 years. The biggest of those — becoming the state’s third “preeminent” university in 2018 — will bring more status and funding. Now with a new president — and a plan he crafted for consolidating USF’s three campuses in 2020 — the school is stepping into the future with a certain confidence.

Ten years ago, U.S. News & World Report put USF at No. 101 among the nation’s public universities. Now, it’s tied for 44th, and one of the fastest-rising universities in the country.

The school is enrolling more advanced students and graduating them faster than ever, hitting a 61 percent four-year graduation rate this year. And more students than ever live on campus, including in St. Petersburg, where a 375-bed residence hall will be complete next summer.

At the same time, USF’s annual research expenditures have reached nearly $600 million — about a 50 percent increase from the beginning of the decade.

Major gifts to the university have fueled growth, too, as USF reached $514 million in endowments this year. The largest of those donations have made possible the Muma College of Business, the Patel Center for Global Solutions, the future Judy Genshaft Honors College, the Kate Tiedemann College of Business in St. Petersburg and the soon-to-open tower in downtown Tampa that will house the Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute and the Taneja College of Pharmacy.

Steve Currall, who became USF’s seventh president in July, said part of what drew him to the job was the university’s quick elevation in recent years.

“I continue to be deeply impressed," he wrote in a statement. “The impact of USF’s achievements during the past 10 years is a key reason why the world’s top talent chooses to live and work in the Tampa Bay region."

Five things to watch over the next 10 years:

Accessibility: There’s a down side to becoming a preeminent university and consolidating campuses: USF is harder to get into now, and that’s starting to shut out many local students who could have counted on the school as a safe option in the past. How will USF meet its ambitions and still stay accessible?

Getting into USF these days requires a higher GPA and a better SAT score than in the past. "There was a time many moons ago where we opened the door to all comers and we swept them all in," Provost Ralph Wilcox said. But too many students weren't ready, he said, and "frankly hadn't earned their right" to be at USF. [Times (2018)]

Consolidation: It’s the biggest issue at USF right now, and the controversial process will be complete in July. Will consolidation help or hurt the university’s smaller campuses in St. Petersburg and Sarasota?

A bird's-eye view of USF St. Petersburg, where passions have run high over the university's plan to consolidate. The process sparked fears that the St. Petersburg and Sarasota branch campuses would lose programs and clout to the main campus in Tampa. But a revised plan by new president Steve Currall has set more people at ease. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]

Leadership: Steve Currall, who took over for long-time president Judy Genshaft in July, says he’s here for the long haul. How long will that be? And what new initiatives will define USF’s Currall era?

Steve Currall speaks to students during one of many campus tours he took in his first few months as USF president. With a new plan for consolidating USF's campuses, he's off to a fast start. [Times (2019)]

Football: USF fans have long pushed for a football stadium on the Tampa campus. Currall has said he sees their point but insists other priorities must come first. Will another decade pass before the wish for a home field comes true?

A rendering of what an on-campus football stadium at USF might look like. A financial feasibility study found that after initial donations and borrowing, an additional $110 million would be needed to pay for the facility. So a project like that will be an uphill climb financially. [Courtesy of USF]

Prosperity: USF’s medical, business and athletic programs have been bolstered by private donations. As the university continues to mature with a growing community of alumni, will more of them step up with big gifts?

From left, former USF president Judy Genshaft appears with Les and Pam Muma as they announce the Mumas' $25 million gift to the business school in 2014. The Mumas have given more than $41 million to the university, making them the largest individual donors in the school's history. Will others step up in the future? [Times (2014)]

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