TAMPA - How do you attract top tech students to a new university that has no track record, no accreditation and not much in the way of amenities save for a world-class architectural jewel of a building? Let 'em in for free. Faced with that dilemma, Florida Polytechnic University officials on Wednesday unveiled their strategy: Let 'em in for free. Poly officials said they are looking to the school's newly organized foundation to help raise tuition scholarships for all 500 students expected to make up the first undergraduate classes in the fall of 2014. "It's a recruiting tool," said Poly Chief Operating Officer Ava Parker. "We see scholarships as a way to recruit the best and brightest to our university." Trustees have not yet decided whether to extend the scholarship offer in the new students' subsequent years or to make it a full four-year free ride for incoming freshman, Parker said.
The policy helped relieve some of the angst of members of the state university system's Board of Governors, who are meeting in Tampa this week to review all 12 public universities' work plans for the coming year. Members of the board expressed continued concern over whether Poly could meet enrollment goals in the cutthroat recruiting war for high-performers in science, technology, engineering and math -- the STEM fields that will be the new school's focus. Board member Norman Tripp said recruitment would be the toughest issue facing the new school. "Not that there aren't students that don't want this type of education, but the fact that you are going to have to seek the best and the brightest and there will be others offering them the same opportunity -- you can't take 'lesser' with the hope that we'll make them better." Parker said Poly is already partnering with the state college system to bring in transfer students, and with high schools that have successful STEM programs to lure freshmen. "We talk about recruiting our students the same way others may recruit their athletes," she said. "We're looking for students who have demonstrated an interest in this area so we can go after them and show them that they want to come to our university because of the cutting-edge programs and because of the opportunity for employment." Parker also reported Wednesday that permanent student housing would not be in place by the 2014 opening. Polytechnic trustees are looking into ways to provide temporary housing, such as modular structures, that would allow students to live on campus. "Don't think of it as trailers, it doesn't look like that any more," Parker said. She noted that universities such as Princeton in New Jersey have embraced modular housing. Parker also said the school is sifting through more than 100 applicants for faculty positions. The first faculty member was hired last week. The school is on a fast track for accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, with the designation expected in 2016. Tuition and fees at the new university were set at $5,032 for Florida residents and $21,096 for out-of-state students. Florida Polytechnic was created by the Florida Legislature in the 2012 session. Its signature structure, the Innovation, Science and Technology building designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, is under construction off Interstate 4 and the Polk Parkway. The school had been under the University of South Florida umbrella and had a timetable and benchmarks to eventually wean it into an independent campus. That timetable was torn up when a powerful central Florida state senator, JD Alexander, insisted the school become autonomous immediately. The contentious split led to some tense discussion more than a year later. "I remain skeptical about whether the process we chose is the right one, but now we're doing it," said Dean Colson, chairman of the Board of Governors, on Wednesday. He commended the Poly officials for their progress in what he said "still may be an impossible task." After the meeting, Parker said she felt the skepticism of some board members was not deserved, "But I certainly understand it." The presentation "was a good opportunity to show the board that we are on track and on schedule to accept our students in 2014." firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 259-7834