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Lawmaker calls for 4 new state universities

Sen. Don Sullivan proposes adding one of the schools in St. Petersburg at the University of South Florida campus.

legislature 2000
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By SHELBY OPPEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 7, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- St. Petersburg's quest for a full-fledged university received new life Monday, courtesy of state Sen. Donald C. "Don" Sullivan.

Sullivan, R-Seminole, will sponsor legislation this spring that would create four state universities to award only bachelor's and master's degrees.

One of them, which would be called Suncoast University, would be housed on the St. Petersburg campus of the University of South Florida, which offers mainly upper-level and graduate courses.

The others would be New University on the New College campus of USF in Sarasota, Los Olas University in Broward County and Treasure Coast University in Indian River County.

The schools would be separate from the state university system, which includes USF. Each would have its own local board of directors and begin admitting students in fall 2002.

Only four states award fewer baccalaureate degrees each year than Florida, Sullivan said, evidence that the state needs to be doing more to produce skilled graduates. In Pinellas County, residents need a university where they can earn four-year degrees without an hourlong commute, he said.

Many students now enrolled at USF's St. Petersburg campus must travel to the main campus in north Tampa to complete course work. Also, students who are too "intimidated" to apply to USF might feel more comfortable enrolling in a "community school," he said.

"We need to increase access to these degrees," Sullivan said.

William Heller, dean of USF's St. Petersburg campus, agrees. But the solution is to offer enough courses at his campus so students don't have to go to Tampa, he said, not to open a new school next door.

"I think that would be a very bad thing. The state really can't afford that. They can afford to maximize the facilities they have," Heller said.

A spokesman for the state university system said Chancellor Adam Herbert would not comment until he read Sullivan's proposal, which was released at a Senate committee meeting Monday.

Joseph Lang, a St. Petersburg lawyer who is chairman emeritus of St. Petersburg Junior College, had not heard of the proposal but doubted that it would harm the state's 28 community colleges.

"It's interesting. I can't say I'm opposed to it because I don't know enough about it," said Lang, chairman of the state Board of Community Colleges.

Sullivan, who heads the Senate committee in charge of the education budget, could not estimate the cost of his proposal except to say that tuition at the new schools would be cheaper than at existing universities.

"Fees would be less, tuition would be less and the responsiveness to the local communities would be greater," Sullivan said.

Each new school would be housed in a combination of new and existing buildings at USF/St. Petersburg, New College in Sarasota, and at Florida Atlantic University branches and community colleges in Broward and Indian River counties.

Two years ago, former state Rep. Margo Fischer tried and failed to convert USF's St. Petersburg campus to a four-year institution. For most of its 35 year-history, it has enrolled only juniors, seniors and graduate students.

Since then, Sullivan and other Pinellas County leaders have continued to angle for a traditional university presence downtown.

Last fall, the governor and the state Cabinet allowed the Bayboro campus to begin a gradual expansion by offering freshman and sophomore courses to up to 150 students. About 80 are now enrolled.

USF also has a joint-use program with St. Petersburg Junior College that creates the equivalent of a four-year public university in Pinellas, but one located in three different places.

Sullivan said some lawmakers in the state House are interested in his proposal, but none have signed on yet as sponsors.

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