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Thursday, Sep 21, 2017
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New 'Florida Poly' would open without accreditation

TAMPA - Again and again Florida lawmakers have said their bill creating a new university in Polk County merely affirms a state Board of Governors' vote in November that splits USF Polytechnic from USF. That's not the case, University of South Florida officials learned on Tuesday. The new Florida Polytechnic University, as lawmakers are calling it, would be unaccredited for at least three years, USF officials were told by accrediting officials in Atlanta. Without accreditation, its students would not be able to receive federal financial aid and would have trouble transferring their credits to any other school. The faculty could not receive federal grants.
By contrast, "students are better served" by the Board of Governors' plan, said USF trustee Steve Mitchell, one of several people from USF who met with officials of the Atlanta-based Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits universities in the south. They stated clearly "it's the most efficient and effective way of proceeding," said USF President Judy Genshaft. The Board of Governors, which oversees the 11 universities, approved a plan in November to make USF Polytechnic independent but to keep the campus under USF - with USF's accreditation - until it met several benchmarks to prove it could stand alone. State Sen. JD Alexander, a Lake Wales Republican and head of the Senate Budget Committee, pushed for the split. The first of the board's benchmarks was for USF Polytechnic to achieve campus accreditation. Campus officials completed their application and planned their Tuesday trip to Atlanta weeks ago to talk to SACS officials about it. But the conversation turned to a surprise bill Alexander came up with to shut down USF Poly and create a new university from scratch. He said he was unhappy with the progress USF was making toward Poly's independence and that it would get on its feet faster if it could start from scratch on its own. He said it could be accredited by July. The Southern Association's president Belle Wheelan presented a different picture. The Senate approved Alexander's independence plan by a 35-4 vote last week, with Senate President Mike Haridopolos and others repeating it was only following the will of the Board of Governors. Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz was scheduled to accompany the USF group to Atlanta but cancelled. House leaders have expressed skepticism about the plan. Gov. Rick Scott has, too, saying he wants to follow the process already in place.

lpeterson@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7834 Twitter @TBO_USFetc

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