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USF Lauded For Plan To Join Academic Elites


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Nothing we haven't really heard before....but the pub is still nice.


By ADAM EMERSON, The Tampa Tribune

Published: September 7, 2007

TAMPA - The University of South Florida's long-range plan to join a group of the nation's elite colleges is among the most focused and ambitious of any school and shouldn't be tempered because of Florida's budget turmoil, a prominent education consultant said Thursday.

'This is one of the best plans I've seen in the country,' said Stephen Portch, of the Connecticut-based Pappas Consulting Group, who this year advised the state on its higher education vision. 'It has a very specific goal, and the general public will be able to follow on this journey.'

USF's goal is to position itself for membership in the Association of American Universities, an invitation-only group of the nation's elite schools. The University of Florida is the only member of the group in the state.

To do that, USF wants to recruit top faculty who have the means to nab more research dollars, and to recruit more students with stronger academic credentials, such as higher grades and test scores.

That costs money, however. When the USF Board of Trustees approved the plan in May, administrators told trustees it would require a $1.2 billion investment over the next five years. That figure hasn't gotten any lower, Vice Provost Ralph Wilcox said.

Florida's financial outlook since has worsened. Lawmakers will have to work to offset a $1.1 billion shortfall for the current fiscal year. Universities have had to plan for budget cuts as high as 10 percent. The Legislature's decision to delay a budget-cutting session will only hurt colleges more as they approach the middle of the school year.

That is no reason, however, for USF to scale back its goals, said Portch, who offered his observations to the USF Board of Trustees on Thursday.

The university will have to develop a business plan that must rely heavily on its endowment of private dollars, Portch said. USF's endowment has about $388 million in assets.

'This institution is going to have to be extremely focused and disciplined,' he said.

Despite a push to raise tuition, USF's faculty union President Sherman Dorn told board members that raising student costs 'are insufficient to support this strategic plan.' The money gained from increased tuition would be paltry compared with what's needed, Dorn said.

Rhea Law, USF's board chairwoman, said the university won't undertake cuts across the board but will focus cuts on programs or services that are less likely to help USF reach its goals.

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