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USF’s St. Petersburg campus could exceed 2021 freshman enrollment goals

Jaymi Butler

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USF St. Pete
Increasing enrollment and diversity on USF's St. Petersburg campus is one of the school's top priorities.

The University of Florida’s St. Petersburg campus is making steady progress toward its goal of enrolling 650 students in the summer and fall 2021 freshman class, according to Glen Besterfield, USF’s dean of admissions and associate vice president.

At a virtual campus advisory board Thursday morning, Besterfield said that the number of students admitted to the St. Petersburg campus is currently tracking in the high 400s, and noted that fall admits are up by 26 percent. He also expressed confidence that the school can meet or exceed its target of 650 new students, a metric aimed at boosting enrollment numbers which have declined over the past several years.

“Have we turned the corner? Yes. The admit data says we’ve turned the corner,” Besterfield said. 

In an effort to reach enrollment goals, USF’s St. Petersburg campus has deployed a number of initiatives. Laura Zuppo, interim regional assistant vice chancellor of enrollment planning and management for the St. Pete campus, said that a redirect campaign is currently in progress that will target 3,000 students who have been admitted to the Tampa campus and encourage them to take a look at St. Pete. A referral campaign that has been successful in netting new students in the past will launch soon as well.

But it’s not just about the overall numbers – it’s also about increasing diversity on campus. To that end, Zuppo pointed to the school’s diversity recruitment campaign, which is in its second of three phases. The current focus is on reaching out to sophomores and juniors via email as well as creating a digital package for high schools in the Guaranteed Admissions Partnership Program (GAPP) which is aimed at increasing admissions opportunities for students from underserved populations. In Pinellas County, the partners schools are Boca Ciega, Dixie M. Hollins and Lakewood. 

Additionally, the USF College of Education is launching a new initiative in fall 2021 called Call Me MISTER, to help increase the number of male teachers of color in local elementary schools, particularly those with populations of poor or at-risk students. USF is partnering with Pinellas County Schools to help identify prospective applicants, a strategy that could also boost minority enrollment. 

Recruitment efforts overall have been more challenging due to the pandemic, which has prevented the school from hosting events where prospective students can truly engage with the campus. However, Zuppo said the school has received approval to begin offering in-person tours at the end of January with safety protocols implemented. And although it’ll be awhile before in-person campus events can start up again, Zuppo said that there are plans to invite admitted students to participate in virtual events like the upcoming MLK Commemorative Week.

“The more we can get students engaged with faculty and staff and other students, the better,” she said. 

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