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Study: USF inadequate in serving jobs needs

President Judy Genshaft and business leaders bristle at the finding that Pinellas employers are displeased.

By BARRY KLEIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 9, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Researchers studying higher education needs in Florida say most of the Pinellas County employers they interviewed aren't satisfied with the University of South Florida's efforts.

That assessment, one of the preliminary findings released Wednesday by the Education Commission of the States, drew a pointed response from several prominent business leaders, and from USF president Judy Genshaft.

"Reputations can linger long after they are deserved," said Genshaft, who noted that USF now offers 30 complete degree programs at its St. Petersburg campus, where she expects enrollment to grow from 3,500 this year to almost 6,000 in 2005.

Her protest came during a public hearing that doubled as the latest installment in the often-rancorous dialogue that could soon transform higher education in the Tampa Bay area.

Several Florida lawmakers, led by State Sen. Don Sullivan, R-Seminole, are pushing for the creation of new public universities. They say the schools are needed to meet growing work force demands for college graduates.

Sullivan has said USF's regional campuses in St. Petersburg and Sarasota would be a perfect fit in the new system, which would focus exclusively on undergraduate education.

USF hates the idea. But even Genshaft, who is waging a furious campaign to persuade local leaders the area would be better served under USF's umbrella, concedes the dismemberment threat has greatly focused her attention.

She recently proposed giving the St. Petersburg campus greater control over tenure, promotion and budgeting decisions. She says she will continue to increase the number of course offerings, including in northern Pinellas, where issues of access are most troublesome.

At the hearing, St. Petersburg Junior College president Carl Kuttler, whose institution has become increasingly competitive with USF in recent years, acknowledged the university's enhanced presence in Pinellas County.

But he said the change came only after extreme duress. He said it still isn't enough to meet the growing demand, as illustrated by the substantial enrollment growth at SPJC's College and University Center, which offers four-year degree programs in partnership with several Florida universities.

"There is still a significant need for more degree programs in Pinellas County," Kuttler said.

Exactly how significant is one of the issues the Education Commission of the States is studying. The Denver-based organization is expected to release its recommendations in December, which could help influence future legislation.

Several of the business and community leaders who spoke Wednesday said they don't want a new university. What the area needs, they said, is more cooperation.

"As a single university with multiple campuses, USF is very important to this community," said Lee Arnold, chairman of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a group of local executives focused on economic development. "We need to make sure USF serves this area, but we also need to make sure it stays together."

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