A proposed bill in the Florida House of Representatives could cost University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee its independence and arrange it once again under the umbrella of the main campus in Tampa.
House Bill 423 would, in part, consolidate the accreditation of USF branch campuses in Sarasota-Manatee and St. Petersburg with the main Tampa campus.
USFSM currently operates separately from the main campus, with its own accreditation. It’s been that way since 2011, and in 2016, the campus earned a 10-year accreditation.
USF’s Board of Trustees would have until Jan. 15, 2019, to adopt and submit a plan to phase out separate accreditation for the Sarasota-Manatee and St. Petersburg campuses. The accreditation for the branch campuses would have to be terminated by June 30, 2020, according to the proposed revision.
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In a statement, USF spokeswoman Lara Wade-Martinez said the top priority for the school would be to minimize the impact to students, faculty and staff should the bill become law.
“The values of the USF System include unity, loyalty and the recognition that we are stronger when we work together. We intend to use those principles to help guide us through this process,” Wade-Martinez said.
The proposed change was buried in the final pages of the House’s version of a higher education bill. A similar version of the bill was passed unanimously by the Senate last week.
Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, sponsors the Senate’s version and told the Tampa Bay Times the House’s proposal is something they will look at “very seriously.”
“It’s definitely on the table. I think, ultimately, it’s a positive impact. It will create efficiencies within the USF system,” Galvano said.
The proposal would also require all of the USF campuses to report consolidated data.
“It’s an opportunity for St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee to have a preeminent university in their community,” Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, told the Tampa Bay Times. “I think, naturally, it will have them rising together as opposed to being separate limbs.”
The House’s proposed version of the bill was discussed in the Post-Secondary Education Subcommittee meeting Wednesday morning. With the majority of conversation steering toward the proposed changes to scholarship opportunities, only a few moments were spent on the USF portion of the bill.
When questioned about the proposal to consolidate the USF campuses accreditation, Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Fort Myers, said several other universities in Florida have many branches, but just one accreditation for them all. The proposed change for USF would be to ensure that there is no disincentive to share resources and that all schools have a common metric.
The Sarasota-Manatee campus first opened in 1974 and focused on courses for upper-level undergraduate, graduate and continuing education students. The first freshman class didn’t step foot on campus until 2013.
According to the proposed bill, the Florida Center for the Partnerships for Arts Integrated Teaching would be created within the University of South Florida and would be physically headquartered at USFSM.
The House Post-Secondary Education Subcommittee favorably passed the bill in the Wednesday hearing, but it will go through two more subcommittees before it is brought to the House floor for a vote.