USF sets its sights high in 5-year plan

USF's trustees are expected to embrace the plan during a meeting Thursday in Tampa.

Published September 5, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - By 2012, University of South Florida leaders want their institution to be enjoying better national rankings, more research dollars, more money-raising success, and higher-caliber faculty members and students.

The ultimate mark of accomplishment would be membership in the Association of American Universities, an invitation-only group of 62 public and private research colleges that now counts the University of Florida as its only member from this state.

Association of American Universities eligibility and other goals are part of a five-year, multimillion-dollar strategic plan that USF president Judy Genshaft unveiled during a meeting Tuesday with the St. Petersburg Times editorial board.

USF's trustees are expected to embrace the plan during a meeting Thursday in Tampa.

But the state's looming billion-dollar budget crisis raises obvious questions about how USF officials can find the money for their plan. When lawmakers meet in an emergency special session later this month, the state's 11 public universities likely will see their budgets for this year cut by at least $100-million.

USF's strategic plan would require $42-million more from the state each year, plus $280-million in new endowed scholarships, by USF estimates.

USF also would need another $912-million in nonrecurring funds to cover things like construction and equipment.

Genshaft said USF will have to depend more than ever on private donations to fund scholarships, pay prestigious professors and build facilities.

USF officials began crafting the plan, an update to an earlier five-year strategy, after prominent Tampa lawyer Rhea Law became chairwoman of the board of trustees last year.

After a series of town hall-style meetings, USF leaders and consultants came up with a plan that is decidedly chamber of commerce-like in its language. The plan talks about "stakeholders" and "promoting globally competitive" academic programs.

Translation: USF administrators want their university to get better, much better. This fall's average SAT for freshmen is 1148. By 2012, they want those scores to be between 1140 and 1270.

Their end game is an invitation to the Association of American Universities, founded in 1900 to advance the international standing of U.S. research universities.

The organization invites new members only periodically, based on factors like federal research activity, faculty credentials, and doctorates awarded annually. The most recent additions, in 2001, were Texas A&M University and the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

USF is one of three major public research universities in Florida. But nationally, it has struggled to acquire the recognition enjoyed by its research peers, UF and Florida State University.

To remedy that, USF's strategic plan includes a national "cutting-edge branding campaign."