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USF tells students space is tight

The incoming freshman class is expected to be the largest and most academically talented class ever, an admissions official says.

By BARRY KLEIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 24, 2000


TAMPA -- For the first time in 35 years, the University of South Florida expects this fall to turn away qualified students who apply for freshman admission.

Officials are not sure how many high school seniors they will tell no, but a surge in applications has forced the university to set a June 1 deadline for guaranteed admission.

Any student who meets the state's academic requirements will be accepted if they apply before that date, said USF admissions director Cecilia Leslie. Those who apply later will be allowed in on a space-available basis.

Space is likely to run out.

Applications are arriving at a record pace this year and will easily top 10,000 for the first time.

The university could have three students vying for each of the 3,600 seats in this fall's freshman class.

At USF, the opportunity to be selective in admissions is seen as another sign that the university is coming of age. Until now, the only Florida schools with that freedom were the University of Florida, Florida State University and the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

The increase in applications has not done anything yet to improve the academic profile of USF students. The median SAT score and high school grade-point average of incoming freshmen actually has declined sightly in recent years.

But that is about to change, Leslie said.

"We're looking at our largest and most academically talented class ever in fall 2000," she said.

USF officials are convinced that the growing interest of high school seniors is attributable, in large part, to USF's success at shedding its longtime image as a commuter school.

Leslie noted USF's designation last year as a Research I institution, which she said greatly enhanced the school's national profile.

Tom Kane, USF's housing director, pointed to the increasing demand for on-campus housing.

Last fall, the waiting list for dorm rooms was 200 students long. This fall, the list could easily exceed 600.

Back in 1965, USF had to turn away about 500 qualified applicants because of a housing shortage. About 8,000 students attended USF that year.

The dorm shortage this year should ease as new and renovated residence halls come on line, Kane said. Within several years, the university hopes to have enough on-campus beds to house 5,000 students, or almost double the number that live there now.

"Campus housing is a big draw for students," Kane said. "Our ability to provide it is one of the major reasons USF is being recognized as a more traditional university."

So is money.

USF officials have gone to considerable expense in recent years to more effectively market the school to prospective students.

During the last year, USF has paid a national consulting firm more than $300,000 to analyze its recruitment efforts and suggest improvements.

The company told officials to repackage financial aid awards to better target high-achieving students.

It helped set up a telemarketing operation in which USF students contact prospective applicants four nights a week and on Sunday afternoons.

"The ultimate goal is to fill all of our seats with the best possible students," said Bruce Bursack, USF's associate vice president forenrollment, planning and management.

In the meantime, USF will be content just to hold its own against the likes of UF, FSU and especially UCF, the younger upstart that has leveraged its popular Orlando location into considerable success on the recruitment trail.

As part of its counterattack, USF officials today will play host to 650 high school seniors who have been accepted for fall admission but have yet to enroll.

The students, and their parents, can sit in on classes or ask questions of any of the dozens of organizations that will be set up on the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza.

There also will be entertainment courtesy of USF's marching band.

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