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Regional campus expands boundaries

The University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus is growing. In buildings. In students. In faculty. And there is more in the works.

By SHARON L. BOND

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 17, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Whatever form the future takes for the University of South Florida campus here, it seems certain there will be expansion.

In some ways, USF-St. Petersburg is like a small business owned by a larger company. It wants more autonomy, which has been promised, so it can better serve its customers: Students who want to attend a four-year, public university in Pinellas County.

"We want to be a countywide campus here," said H. William Heller, campus executive officer and dean. Pinellas does not have a public, four-year university.

Already, new buildings are going up on the St. Petersburg campus, a tiny picturesque plat perched on the waterfront. Twenty new faculty members have been hired, and 20 more will be added next year. Students enrollment expanded to include freshmen and sophomores for the first time last fall. Previously USF took only upper-class and graduate students.

Discussions are ongoing about how independent the St. Petersburg campus will be from Tampa. USF President Judy Genshaft and Heller want it to have more control but remain a part of USF. State Sen. Don Sullivan, R-Seminole, wants a completely independent institution. As a result of the negotiations, enrollment caps set when freshmen first started are no longer in effect, Heller said.

Could he take 200 freshmen next year? "I would hope to get 200," he said. Enrollment now is 3,500, an increase over the previous year of 14 percent. It includes 98 freshmen. The campus has the capacity to handle 10,000 students.

However, a number of the new students say the reason they picked the St. Petersburg campus was because classes have fewer students, and professors have more time to get to know them.

"I didn't want to be in a class with 400 other kids," said Alicia Smith, 19, who moved here from Jacksonville to attend USF.

"It's more hands-on. They know you on a personal level," said Camika Winter, 19. She lives in St. Petersburg and says she is happy to avoid the hour commute north to Tampa, where USF has its main campus.

Bear Johnson, 20, is a sophomore at USF. He would have gone to St. Petersburg Junior College if USF-St. Petersburg hadn't opened to underclassmen.

"I'd rather go to a university than a junior college," Johnson said. He lives in St. Petersburg and decided to remain at home for his first college years.

A smaller university "helps you adapt. You're not thrown in with 400 kids. You can get a lot closer," Johnson said. He is majoring in mass communications. Eventually he will have to go to the Tampa campus for the higher level courses he wants in his major.

Class offerings were expanded in the core curriculum this year to give freshmen more choices. Demand resulted in more offerings in accounting, information systems and psychology, among others. Programs are planned in graphic arts, environmental studies and visual communication.

"This year we received the best budget we've ever received," Heller told a Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting last week. "The extra funding allowed us to offer more courses and more sections. If you offer the courses and programs, students will come."

Now that freshmen and sophomores are enrolled, the campus is used more during the day. As a commuter college for upperclassmen and graduate students, USF-St. Petersburg was packed at night but empty during the day.

The Florida Center for Teachers, a two-story building of 20,000 square feet, is the newest addition to the campus. The $5.1-million project is expected to be finished in November. The building's main occupant will be the Florida Humanities Council, which puts on week-long seminars for teachers.

The building will have an auditorium, conference rooms, a computer lab and a distance-learning studio, plus offices for faculty. Renovation of the two historic houses on campus also will create new space for faculty, which has increased 33 percent in size this year.

Heller said eventually USF will need student housing. "Full-time students want housing," he said. "They want the college life." Already there are inquiries about housing.

Heller said Genshaft's master plan included the prospect of student housing.

"It would either be the university acquiring property or the private sector or a combination thereof." He said it would not be dormitories but more along the townhouse arrangement where several students would share living room and kitchen but have their own bedrooms and bathrooms.

With the admission of underclass students last year, USF-St. Petersburg had to agree that it would not build student housing as a concession to Eckerd College and St. Petersburg Junior College who feared USF would draw students from them. Heller said USF no longer is bound by that agreement.

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