Does USF Need a Lakeland Campus?

If you missed the article, the St. Petersburg Times recently wrote about the proposed USF Lakeland campus, Budget is tight, but USF wants to build in Lakeland.

One of the reporters teased the article on her blog:

In a year when colleges are laying off staff and freezing enrollment, University of South Florida officials are strongly lobbying the Legislature for $15-million to kick-start a large new campus in Lakeland.

With a price tag of up to $200-million, the branch campus is slated to serve an eventual population that would make it larger than four of the state’s 11 four-year universities.

But is the demand really there?

The turning point of the article is an apparent conflict between USF departments about the current USF Lakeland student population and future growth. Specifically, the article implies that USF Lakeland is using fudged numbers to claim faster growth.

I called USF Lakeland to speak to campus officials about the raw numbers, but haven’t received those yet. I did get a copy of a response sent to local officials. You can read the full text after the jump.

Billy Townsend has covered the USF Lakeland for the Tampa Tribune. He has a well-reasoned reaction to the St. Pete article. I believe he addresses two important points: this isn’t an effort to build a full campus in one fell swoop. It’s one building at a time as the demand warrants. Also, the university has not approached the state for all the funds to build the campus.

There is also another reason Lakeland needs to take a strong look at university education. Take a look at something Cat Carter recently posted at YLakeland:

We stumbled across this study in our office today that I found interesting. The study, completed by the bizjournal, is entitled “Brainpower rankings of 100 top metros.” Lakeland comes in at number 95.

Less than 20% of Lakeland residents have a bachelor’s or graduate degree. Obviously, we haven’t done enough for college education in the past. It’s time we step up our game.

The University of South Florida remains committed to the new polytech campus in Lakeland, an expansion approved by the State University System Board of Governors (BOG) and affirmed in the Florida Legislature’s 2007-2008 budget and by Governor Crist earlier this year.

Recent media accounts have drawn attention to the plan, and the following information is provided as a response to questions which have been raised:

Q. How was the site for the new campus selected?

A. The site for the new campus is located on land given to the University by a donor, following an extensive public selection process that included multiple potential donors with sites throughout Polk County. The site ultimately selected is located at the northeastern edge of Lakeland, at the intersection of I-4 and the Polk Parkway. The site is at the center of Florida’s High Tech Corridor and accessible to the region’s fastest growing population centers.

Q. What justifies investment in the new campus?

A. The State University System is currently operating above capacity, and Polk County is one of
the fastest growing regions in Florida. Student demand has grown substantially in the 20 years
since USF established a regional, joint-use campus with Polk Community College in Lakeland.

Q. What steps were involved in the approval process for the new campus?

A. In addition to the transparent site-selection process and multiple public meetings, the new campus plan has been vetted through a local campus board, workgroups of the USF Board of
Trustees, the full USF Board of Trustees, reviews and a site visit by BOG staff, reviews by appropriate BOG committees, and the full BOG. The project has also appeared on two consecutive PECO priority lists provided to the state legislature by the BOG.

Q. Why do there seem to be inconsistencies in enrollment data associated with the
plan?

A. A recent article in the St. Petersburg Times cited one set of enrollment data provided at the
system level and another set of data at the campus level. The apparent gap in those numbers
is related to the simple fact that data is tracked in different ways for different purposes.

Specifically, system-level data is intended to give an accurate sense of the scale of USF; thus, no student is double-counted. However, campus-level data is intended to reflect student use of
specific campuses: it is a record of how many students use a given campus. If they use more than one campus within the system, they may be “double-counted” – but this double-counting
is resolved when the system provides the state with its aggregate, system-level data. The
campus-level data, however, is helpful in assessing demand at the campus level. Furthermore, in planning for a new campus such as USF’s polytech campus, historical data is only part of the story. It is also necessary to account for unmet needs (i.e. those students who would use a campus if it had room for them); new levels (e.g. the fact that USF’s new campus will expand to
include freshman and sophomores, in addition to the current juniors and seniors it serves at the undergraduate level); and new programs (i.e. the new academic programs which are part of the BOG-approved offerings on the new campus). In other words, historical data provide some insight into utilization trends, but this data captures only a part of the anticipated utilization as the new campus is developed.