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Planned downtown campus draws USF med school applications

TMore students are clamoring to enroll in the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine, lured by the promise of its move to a state-of-the-art campus in downtown Tampa, USF officials say.

The students applying are smarter, too.

USF students’ MCAT scores — the equivalent of the SAT for medical students — averaged about 32.59 out of 45 possible points for the 2014-15 school year, meaning their scores were in the 90th percentile. In the 2013-14 school year, the average score was 31, and the previous school year the average score was 30.

In a presentation to the university’s board of trustees Thursday, USF President Judy Genshaft said the MCAT scores placed USF above all other Florida colleges for the category in the closely watched annual rankings of U.S. News and World Report. The state school closest to USF’s scores was the University of Florida, with an average MCAT score of 32.2.

The rising test scores were attributed to a growing applicant pool, allowing the university to be more selective last school year, said Charles Lockwood, senior vice president of USF Health and dean of the Morsani college.

Plans for relocating downtown the Morsani college, as well as the USF Health Heart Institute, helped the university draw medical school applicants who did undergraduate work at top schools nationwide, Lockwood said.

Among last year’s applicants, 16 percent are from top 30 schools, he said.

Also appealing to applicants is the economic success of USF’s CAMLS — the Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, Lockwood said. The downtown center is now three years old.

“We blew away all the other schools,” Lockwood said.

USF’s medical school received 5,238 initial applications for the 2014-15 school year — a 24 percent increase over the applications received for the previous school year and the biggest in the school’s history, Lockwood said. He called the growth remarkable. Secondary applications, the step before final acceptance, totaled 2,920 last school year — a 28 percent increase.

In the 2013-14 school year, the number of applications only grew by 5 percent and in the 2012-13 school year they grew by 10 percent. The surge in application exceeded national trends for the period.

“I don’t have any real explanation for it, but I’m sure happy to have it,” Lockwood said. “I have suspicions that the downtown project may have created a big lunge, and these students applied from across the country.”

Over the next year, USF Health will determine exactly what programs and student services will go in the new $157 million, 11-story Morsani college in the heart of downtown Tampa, which will replace its 40-year-old complex on the USF’s main campus in Tampa.

That deadline is set by the design architects for the school and by the state Board of Governors, which oversees the state’s public universities. The board unanimously approved a $62 million, multi-year funding request for the new college, which will be combined with $18 million from Tampa philanthropists Frank and Carol Morsani and other private donations.

Land for the medical school and heart institute was donated by Jeff Vinick, downtown developer and owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who will also build a parking garage and medical office complex for the school. The college is at the heart of Vinick’s redevelopment plans for downtown’s Channel District.

University officials are finalizing agreements for the initial transfer of real estate, Lockwood said.

Genshaft is scheduled to present an update on the new college to the Board of Governors on Sept. 2 in Gainesville.

“We welcome that opportunity to reaffirm the extraordinary university and community support for the downtown project,” Lockwood said.

The new medical complex will make it easier for students to work with Tampa General Hospital, USF’s primary teaching hospital, and the CAMLS training center, which is increasing its offerings for students.

In three years, the CAMLS program has generated $65 million in economic impact for Tampa, said Deborah Sutherland, the center’s chief executive officer. About $24.3 million came in the last 12 months and the yearly average was $21.6 million, according to a study by the Muma College of Business at USF. About $12.4 million each year comes from people who sign up for high-tech training at the center and $9.7 million comes from center events and other sources.

“We have reported in the past the direct impact of CAMLS, what attendees spend on rooms, food and at the airport, but we never commissioned a full economic impact study,” Sutherland said. “I think it’s an interesting study and probably good timing with the medical school coming to the downtown area to give an indication of what we’ve contributed to the local economy.”

About 84 percent of people who train at the center travel from outside the Tampa area and 60 percent are from outside the state. They spend an average of three nights in town and often bring family with them, to visit Busch Gardens and other local attractions, Sutherland said.

CAMLS has provided a “significant stream of revenue for the university,” and paid off a $1.5 million line of credit with USF just before June 30, Sutherland said.

“Three years and we’re in the black,” she said.

Next week, the university will share its findings on CAMLS with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the city’s economic development corporation, and the Visit Tampa Bay tourism agency. Board of Trustees members also hope to create promotional materials that break down the center’s economic contribution, comparing it to Lightning hockey games and other events downtown.

“The comparison that comes to my mind is the Republican National Convention,” said Stephen Mitchell, board of trustees workgroup chairman.

USF officials have estimated moving the medical school next door will create close to 1,500 jobs. The heart institute will be the largest heart research center in the state, and is projected to have more than a $56 million economic impact. The project is expected to be finished in 2017.

adawson@tampatrib.com

(813) 731-8093

@TBOadawson

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