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USF Declared Emerging Preeminent State University

An academic milestone for the university that comes with $5 million in additional funding.

We don't always get to write about the academic side of the institution as much as we'd like, but some good news out of the ADM building: The Florida Board of Trustees named USF as an "emerging preeminent" university this week, which will add $5 million in new funding to the USF Heart Health Institute and medical engineering programs. Even more dollars on the way if USF achieves full preeminent status, which is projected to happen around 2018.

There are 12 benchmarks set for Florida universities to achieve this designation, with 11 needing to be met for preeminent status and six for emerging preeminent. USF is at nine right now, making it the state's only emerging preeminent school, with Florida and FSU as the preeminent institutions. From the state statute setting up the preeminent tier:

(a) An average weighted grade point average of 4.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale and an average SAT score of 1800 or higher on a 2400-point scale or 1200 or higher on a 1600-point scale for fall semester incoming freshmen, as reported annually.

(b) A top-50 ranking on at least two well-known and highly respected national public university rankings, including, but not limited to, the U.S. News and World Report rankings, reflecting national preeminence, using most recent rankings.

(c) A freshman retention rate of 90 percent or higher for full-time, first-time-in-college students, as reported annually to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

(d) A 6-year graduation rate of 70 percent or higher for full-time, first-time-in-college students, as reported annually to the IPEDS.

(e) Six or more faculty members at the state university who are members of a national academy, as reported by the Center for Measuring University Performance in the Top American Research Universities (TARU) annual report or the official membership directories maintained by each national academy.

(f) Total annual research expenditures, including federal research expenditures, of $200 million or more, as reported annually by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

(g) Total annual research expenditures in diversified nonmedical sciences of $150 million or more, based on data reported annually by the NSF.

(h) A top-100 university national ranking for research expenditures in five or more science, technology, engineering, or mathematics fields of study, as reported annually by the NSF.

(i) One hundred or more total patents awarded by the United States Patent and Trademark Office for the most recent 3-year period.

(j) Four hundred or more doctoral degrees awarded annually, including professional doctoral degrees awarded in medical and health care disciplines, as reported in the Board of Governors Annual Accountability Report.
(k) Two hundred or more postdoctoral appointees annually, as reported in the TARU annual report.

(l) An endowment of $500 million or more, as reported in the Board of Governors Annual Accountability Report.

You can argue about the wisdom of using hard benchmarks like these to measure the success of mission fulfillment, especially the U.S. News & World Report rankings (seriously Florida Legislature you are the absolute worst). But this achievement shows the growth of the university, and that it's hitting the targets being asked of it.

The three targets USF is short of are (c), (d), and (l) listed above.

* Freshman retention rate of 90% for full-time, first-time-in-college students. USF is at 88%.

* A 70% graduation rate for full-time, first-time-in-college students. USF is at 68%.

* Build an endowment of $500 million. USF is at $417 million.

It would seem meeting the first two is USF's likely path to full status. "I'll be quite frank: This is not a challenge for the University of South Florida," provost Ralph Wilcox told the Tampa Bay Times. "It's really an extension of a plan we've been working on for the past 15 years or so, and we've been steadily moving past the milestones."

The school expects to meet the 90% target this Fall, and the 70% grad rate by 2017. Of course it's possible enough money comes into the endowment to get there, but that would take some massive gifts that would fundamentally change the future of the school.

This is another step upon the now-openly spoken goal of the school, which is to become a full member of the American Association of Universities. From USF's release after the designation:

It also supports USF's ambition to climb in national university rankings and further positions the institution for eventual membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU).

This is the Bulls brass ring. For a school as young as USF to even be able to make a legitimate case for membership is an accomplishment. But until they get there, they'll still have something for which to fight.