Before this spring, most of the public had never heard of the term “pre-eminence” for Florida’s University System.
But discerning observers in Tampa got a crash course in May after an education conforming bill in the Legislature changed the number of benchmarks required to achieve the lofty status of pre-eminence, costing the University of South Florida some $15 million.
In 2013, the Florida Legislature created the Preeminent State Research Universities Program, granting an extra $5 million to $15 million in state funding to universities that could meet 11 of 12 performance benchmarks used by the state to measure success. Those measures included the ability to retain freshmen enrolled beyond their first year, the timely graduation of undergraduates, and the financial growth of the institution.
Earlier in the Legislative Session, the number of performance benchmarks was reduced to 10, which would have been enough to qualify USF for pre-eminent status — as well as the millions of dollars attached. However, the final education bill passed by the Legislature kicked the number of performance benchmarks back up to 11, squeezing USF out.
Supporters and alumni took to conventional and social media outlets to protest the decision the next day and called on members of the public to persuade lawmakers to change the law to give USF a crack at those funds.
Former House Speaker Will Weatherford‘s tweet was typical of the local reaction: “It was unfair to move the pre-eminence goal post on @USouthFlorida at the last moment …”
It didn’t work out, but in a speech Wednesday at the Oval Theater in the Marshall Center on the north Tampa campus, USF President Judy Genshaft said that the school has now reached 11 of the 12 performance benchmarks.
“This is incredible,” Genshaft declared in what was billed as her annual “fall address.”
The longtime school leader (who has been in charge since 2001) also announced that the USF System set a record during the 2016-17 academic year with more than $475 million in research grants and contracts. The amount is up from over $458 million in 2015-16, representing an increase of approximately 3.6 percent.
“It’s not just the dollars attached to our research productivity,” Genshaft said. “It’s also the way we harness it — applying our creativity to real-world problems and finding practical solutions that have a major impact.”
Genshaft also announced that USF has reached a major fundraising milestone and record high endowment level.
USF has now met its goal of raising $1 billion through the “Unstoppable” campaign. The University will celebrate the accomplishment in November, one year earlier than the goal’s original targeted date.
In addition, USF’s endowment has now reached $441 million, its highest ever. She noted only two universities in the country founded after 1950 have endowments higher than USF, highlighting the uniqueness of this achievement.
“It’s extremely rare,” Genshaft said, “It says a lot about the passion of our supporters, our university, our students, our alums and our community. We are extremely appreciative.”