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Under Proposed Bill, USF Would Lose Separate Accreditations

University of South Florida
Main entrance of the USF Tampa campus.

A bill under consideration by the Florida House would shake the very foundation of the University of South Florida by revoking the separate accreditations of its St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campuses.

Before lawmakers voted to allow the schools to pursue their academic independence in 2002, USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee acted as satellite campuses of the larger Tampa campus. USFSP received its own accreditation in 2006 and USFSM followed suit in 2011, creating the USF System.

Now, under HB 423, the proposed House version of the Higher Education Bill, USF would be legally required to operate under one accreditation. University leaders would have to come up with a plan by January of next year, and put it into effect by June 2020.

The House Bill is sponsored by State Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R-Ft. Myers), and as of Tuesday afternoon, it's not clear who came up with the proposal - which is not in the Senate version of the Higher Ed Bill - or what chance it has at passing.

USF officials released a statement Tuesday:

The Florida House of Representatives has proposed a bill that would result in a consolidation of the current USF System.  If the bill is passed by the state legislature and signed into law by the governor, our institutions in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee would be statutorily required to operate under a single, unified accreditation.
If this bill becomes a law, minimizing the impact on our students, faculty and staff would be the number one priority. Under the current form of the bill, the USF Board of Trustees would have until January 15, 2019 to submit an implementation plan to the Florida Board of Governors and separate accreditation would need to be phased out by June 30, 2020. We would work with leadership at all three USF System institutions, our Board of Trustees, the Board of Governors, elected officials and community leaders to develop a transition plan that will advance the university’s mission and vision.
Regardless of the outcome, we intend for each USF System campus to continue achieving higher levels of student success and scholarly activity, and as a result we will provide all students with the world-class education they came here to earn. We will remain focused on reaching our strategic goals, serving the entire Tampa Bay region and maintaining the strong partnerships we have built in each community.
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.

Under the current set-up, each campus has its own leadership, which answers to USF System President Judy Genshaft and the USF Board of Trustees. In addition, the campuses have separate lines in the state budget and have such figures as graduation and retention rates measured on their own.

The proposal is scheduled to be discussed Wednesday morning by the House's Post-Secondary Education Committee.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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