The University of South Florida recently surpassed its $1 billion fundraising goal, continuing a current trend of exceeding expectations. At 61 years old — barely middle age among higher education institutions — USF has grown up quickly. It now boasts a long and impressive roster of alumni donors who are leaving no doubt about the school's status as a regional asset worthy of long-term investment.
Last weekend, USF held a gala to celebrate hitting the fundraising milestone, even as it cruised right past it. At the gala, top donors Les and Pam Muma announced another $15 million gift to the university. Les Muma helped spearhead the "USF: Unstoppable" campaign, which had an original goal of $500 million. Donations poured in so quickly that the school doubled the goal, then reached it a year early. The Mumas have donated more than $56 million altogether, leading the ranks of other major donors including Frank and Carol Morsani and Kiran and Pallavi Patel, who have put millions toward elevating USF from a commuter school of little distinction.
That reputation seems a distant memory now. This year, USF achieved pre-eminent status, joining the University of Florida and Florida State in meeting high academic benchmarks and building its endowment. With significant investments in research and entrepreneurship, a consultant estimates that USF accounts for more than 3,000 high-wage jobs yielding $149 million in household income in Tampa Bay and has led the way in creating a local business environment that is attractive to new companies and skilled professionals.
Despite that improved environment, there is still work to do developing the talent pool in Tampa Bay. Times business columnist Robert Trigaux recently reported that the region ranked near the bottom among 20 metros in possessing a workforce ready to fill higher-wage, higher-skilled jobs. Companies won't locate here if there aren't qualified workers to fill jobs. USF is perhaps the most obvious player to help fill that void, by turning out employable, well-prepared graduates. To that end, USF has raised its six-year graduation rate to 70 percent and all but eliminated the achievement gap between white and African-American students.
USF is to be congratulated for its wildly successful fundraising campaign that drew contributions from some 200,000 donors. This milestone along the school's concerted climb into the ranks of academically rigorous, well-endowed universities is a win for the entire region.