USFSM may add courses next fall to meet increased demand, officials say

MANATEE -- After attracting undergraduates more quickly than expected, the University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee, will seek approval during a meeting in Tallahassee next week to exceed the cap on its lower-level student enrollment.

School officials said they plan to petition the State University System Florida Board of Governors about the issue, which could mean additional courses next fall to meet demand, officials said.

The board of governors has a policy calculated by the full-time equivalency -- the number of full-time students, said USFSM Regional Chancellor Sandra Stone during an interview Tuesday.

"You must get approval to be able to exceed that 25 percent," she said.

The university, near the border of Manatee and Sarasota counties, historically accepts only juniors, seniors and graduate students, but in 2012 it began enrolling sophomores, and in 2013 welcomed freshmen. According to state calculations, it has a full-time student population of about 1,200.

Since then, its prediction it would reach the 25 percent threshold in 2017 or 2018 proved conservative: It reached the ratio in 2014.

If the board approves a change, it could mean more lower-level courses next fall, Stone said.

"We would probably (add more) if we continue to grow the lower-level population," she said. "We would need to expand the number of general-education courses to meet the demand. It just was an indication of demand, which is exciting for us because I think there was more demand than was expected for lower-level students to begin their careers with us."

Also under discussion is the possibility of residence halls, officials said, which may still be years away.

Residence hall discussions

"As we start attracting more lower-level students, we are having discussions about residence halls. Some choose to not come to us because they want a more traditional college experience," she said. "If we had some residence capacity, we would be able to attract students from outside our regular area."

Ninety percent of USFSM students live within 30 miles of campus.

The issues will be included in a draft report of a five-year strategic plan for board review in April, she said.

"There are absolutely wonderful opportunities here, and we're trying to zero in on places where we can really develop signature programs and some depth," said Stone.

USFSM is exceeding expectations in other ways, too, said board Chairman Byron Shinn.

"We've been really pleased with our retention. That's really, really strong, too," he said. "I'm really bullish on the campus and the university system."

Sara Kennedy, University Parkway reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.