As a task force sorts out countless details involved in folding the University of South Florida St. Petersburg back into the major research university based in Tampa, ensuring access for good Pinellas students remains a concern. An enhanced cooperative effort between USFSP and St. Petersburg College to reach out to students this fall who could be left behind is a good first step to address that challenge.
The initiative unveiled this week will use more than $300,000 provided in the 2018-19 state budget to increase USFSP's reach into its home county. USFSP and SPC will each hire two additional advisers to seek out and work with potential students. A new scholarship will be used to attract Pinellas students who would spend their first two years at SPC and then move to USFSP. And there will be an enhanced bridge program aimed at preparing high school students who may not be quite ready for college.
SPC President Tonjua Williams and Martin Tadlock, the interim regional chancellor at USFSP, talk about creating an "education ecosystem'' in Pinellas so families of all incomes and races are familiar with the local opportunities for higher education and how to prepare their children for them. That will be critically important work as USF adopts higher uniform admission standards across its campuses, which have the potential of shutting out some kids who would be counting on attending college in their home county.
Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, was the driving force behind the new state law that will phase out USFSP's independent accreditation. He deserves credit for recognizing student access is an issue and for steering money into these enhanced efforts by the university and SPC. But it is only a first step, and it will be important to design a thoughtful outreach program that can expand and draw more significant state dollars in the coming years.