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USF proposes new interdisciplinary ‘academic clusters’ for St. Pete campus

Jaymi Butler



The new academic clusters would be implemented over a five-year period.

In the face of declining enrollment at the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus, USF administrators have unveiled plans to create five distinctive academic programs across multiple disciplines with the goal of turning the waterfront campus into an international destination for student and faculty talent. 

The plans, developed through university-wide consultation with multiple college deans and academic leaders on the St. Petersburg campus over the course of the last several years, will establish five “academic clusters” over a five-year period. 

Here’s the breakdown of the clusters and when they would be implemented: 

Years one and two

  • Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences, Technology and Sustainability (including Engineering). This cluster would expand existing programs in biology, develop new programs in coastal engineering, extend sustainability and public policy programs, create a science journalism program and enhance support for the Florida Institute of Oceanography.
  • STEM Education (teacher preparation). This cluster would develop a plan for an environmental and oceanographic sciences, technology and sustainability-themed professional development school or magnet school adjacent to the St. Petersburg campus in partnership with Pinellas County Schools. 

Years three and four

  • Visual and Performing Arts (Design). This cluster would expand the existing graphic design program, encourage collaboration with local arts organizations, create an internship hub for the St. Pete arts community and explore the demand for an Arts Administration program. 
  • Business (Blue/Green Economy). This cluster would develop the finance program, expand the risk management and insurance major to the St. Petersburg campus and develop a theme of “blue/green business”  throughout the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance.

Year five

  • Health Sciences. This clutter would add advanced nursing degrees, expand the accelerated nursing program, create partnerships with local hospitals and engage USF Health to deliver programming in environmental health.

The proposed new clusters could inject new life into the St. Petersburg campus, which has struggled to attract new students and retain existing ones. At a Campus Advisory Board meeting in October, Provost Ralph Wilcox lamented the “steady and disappointing” decline in enrollment on the St. Petersburg campus over the past three fall semesters. During that time, total enrollment has dropped from 4,981 in 2017 to 3,878 in 2020. The number of first-time-in-college students has also fallen off, going from 402 in fall 2017 to 157 in 2020. 

In an interview last month with the Catalyst, Regional Chancellor Martin Tadlock said that the impact of consolidating the three USF campuses under a single accreditation, along with the more rigorous academic standards for admission that came with it, have led to an “expected initial decline” in enrollment.

“We anticipated it would take a couple of years to turn the corner and bring that back around,” he said. 

Administrators are ready to see that happen ASAP. They’ve set a lofty goal of enrolling 650 freshmen on the St. Petersburg campus in summer and fall 2021, with an added focus on increasing diversity. There’s only one Black student in this year’s fall freshman class, and just 25 Hispanic students. At last month’s meeting, USF officials outlined a number of outreach efforts aimed at attracting more students, particularly those from underserved populations. 

At the same time, USF is facing nearly $37 million in budget cuts over the next several months, and the St. Petersburg campus can expect to lose $3.1 million by June 2021. In a controversial move, administrators recently announced plans to phase out the undergraduate education programs on the Tampa campus due to falling enrollment and budget constraints. Since then, a number of people have spoken out against the decision, including Pinellas County School superintendent Mike Grego and several members of the USF Board of Trustees


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  1. Avatar

    Rebecca Johns

    November 12, 2020at9:58 pm

    I think we should be clear that the decline in enrollment at USF St. Petersburg is a direct result of consolidation combined with the COVID 19 crisis. Prior to the initiation of consolidation, the St. Pete campus was a vibrant and growing community, attracting diverse students to unique programs. After scrambling for two years to restructure everything under one umbrella – stripping away much of what was unique at St. Pete— we are now faced with building new programs (which will cost money in the midst of a budget crisis) to regain lost ground.

  2. Avatar

    Melvin Baker

    November 13, 2020at12:33 pm

    Ms. Johns is correct. I got a bachelors and a masters at the St. Pete campus, and it was thriving. Genshaft’s desire to concentrate her efforts on the Tampa campus is the direct cause of declining enrollment. I notice the “clusters” do not include the masters program in journalism. Where is that going? How many programs will be lost? The Tampa campus is a long drive with inconvenient parking for many of us who live in Pinellas, and the concentration of classes in Hillsborough County is a detriment to those Pinellas County residents without the time or transportation to go to the main campus. Jeff Brandes should be ashamed of himself in sponsoring the bill to reintegrate the campuses after local — and previous state — officials worked hard to get autonomy for USFSP.

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