40th Anniversary in Focus: USFSM listens to community, establishes 4-year institution

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: February 16, 2016

Editor’s note: The story here is part of a series of 40 stories commemorating USF Sarasota-Manatee’s 40th anniversary this academic year. For more about USFSM’s history, please visit usfsm.edu/anniversary.

It didn’t take long for Dr. Arthur Guilford to hear the talk about expanding USF Sarasota-Manatee from a two-year “upper-division” school to a comprehensive four-year institution.

“People started talking about it shortly after I came down here,” Dr. Guilford, regional chancellor from 2007 to 2014, said. “In the end, it seemed the only way to build the university the way we wanted to, was to become a four-year institution.”

Seeking to explore the idea further, campus leaders surveyed students, parents, faculty and community leaders about whether to expand. A consensus emerged, but the reasons varied. While many students said they wanted to attend class close to home, others talked about seeking “a university experience” that only a four-year institution can provide.

Community and business leaders, meanwhile, had an entirely different goal in mind. They said they wanted to stop the “brain drain” of high school graduates to colleges outside the area. “They would get jobs and get married and never come back,” Guilford said.

With support for the idea in place, the campus set out to ramp up its accreditation and put together a plan for new courses and degree programs. It also needed approval from USF’s Board of Trustees and the state’s Board of Governors. The process took two years.

After hiring faculty and expanding the curriculum, the first freshman class entered USFSM in August 2013.

Of the 392 students who applied to join the Class of 2017, 135 were accepted (33 percent) and 87 were formally enrolled. They posted an average GPA of 3.59, average SAT (reading and math) score of 1093 and composite ACT score of 24.

Most came from the Tampa Bay area – Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties in particular – but some traveled from out of state, like Hannah Veitkus, who grew up in Kansas City and graduated high school in England.

She said she was drawn to USFSM’s small class sizes. Others, like Alex Benishek, who graduated from Palmetto High School in Manatee County, cited USFSM’s mix of programs, proximity to home and affordability.

Now a junior and student body president, Benishek said he applied accidentally, thinking he was applying online for USF St. Petersburg. He later viewed the mistake, “by far the best thing that ever could have happened.”

Read more news stories below or view as a list