By the numbers: USF earns top national rankings

Just a few decades ago, the University of South Florida was viewed widely as a regional commuter school and an afterthought to the University of Florida and Florida State University when it came to schools in the state. But that’s all changed in recent years with USF emerging as one of the top universities in the state and the nation.

How do we know for sure? The numbers say it all.

In recent years, there has been a steady stream of data that proves USF is more than just a rising star in the academic world. In many ways, the numbers show USF has arrived.

The latest evidence of that came last week when U.S. News and World Report came out with its 2020 ranking of the top public universities in America. For the first time ever, USF cracked the top 50. Its ranking was No. 44, up 14 spots from last year. For perspective, USF has been rising steadily in this ranking since 2011 when it ranked No. 101.

“Yes, it certainly set off some celebration here,’’ USF Provost Ralph Wilcox says. “It’s further validation that we’re heading in the right direction and it’s a tribute to the whole university community. But our destination goal isn’t just to be in the top 50. We aspire to be in the top 25 quickly and we’ve got a lot of work to do.’’

But Wilcox did take a few minutes to look back through the results and enjoy them. The pride in his voice was most evident when he got to the category of “social mobility,’’ a topic he often has talked about in the past. The category is based on a university’s success in enrolling, retaining, and graduating students from lower-income families and receive federal Pell Grants. USF didn’t just crack the top 50 in this category. It made the top 10, coming in at No. 9.

Living the American Dream

“The most compelling thing about USF is social mobility. I view it as the American Dream,’’ Wilcox says. “Our graduation rate isn’t that much different regardless of whether we’re talking about race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. I take special pride when a student is the first in their family to graduate from college or a first-generation American. We pride ourselves on what we call value-added to students. That’s basically the return on investment, such as graduating and being able to get good jobs. This tells the story of USF in so many ways.’’

Wilcox also takes great pride in that the current average cost of tuition and fees students pay over four years. His that number is $7,130.

“The actual sticker price for four years is $26,000,’’ Wilcox says. “But we’ve been able to keep the average cost downward by managing costs, help from Pell Grants, and state financial aid. USF also has put a lot of effort into reducing textbook costs. In general, our students are graduating with much less debt than they used to.’’

The U.S. News & World Report rankings are just the latest feather in USF’s cap. In 2018, USF was recognized as a Preeminent Research University. Another important ranking came in 2017 when the National Science Foundation ranked USF No. 42 in research and development among public and private schools. USF spent $558 million in research and development. For comparison, the University of Florida was No. 25 at $801 million, Florida State was No. 82 at $283 million and the University of Central Florida was No. 98 at $234 million.

But Wilcox said there’s another big goal in sight. He said USF officials view their next step as gaining recognition by the Association of American Universities, which ranks the top 62 public and private universities in the United States and Canada. At the moment, the University of Florida is the only Florida university on the AAU list.

“Much of what we’re trying to do now is to drive our profile to compel consideration from the AAU,’’ Wilcox says. “We’re not trying to clone the University of Florida. That’s a wonderful institution. But we’re a major metropolitan university and our location puts us in an ideal position.

USF already has an excellent profile 

Here’s a list of 12 facts and figures that show USF’s strength and impact on the Tampa Bay Area, the State of Florida and the United States:
  • In addition to top-50 status with U.S. News & World Reports and the National Science Foundation, USF also has achieved top-50 rankings from the Academic Ranking of World Universities, Times Higher Education World. University Rankings, Top American Research Universities, Washington Monthly National University rankings, and Kiplinger Best College Value: In-State.
  • Including its Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Sarasota campuses, USF has a student body of 50,755 students. That includes students from over 145 countries.
  • USF has an estimated $4.4 billion economic impact on the Tampa Bay Area and the state of Florida. USF’s innovation efforts alone bring an annual economic impact of $582 million annually to the Tampa Bay region and the state of Florida.
  • USF prides itself on research and innovation. According to the Intellectual Property Owners Association/National Academy of Inventors in 2018, USF was No. 1 among Florida public universities and No. 7 in the nation in being granted U.S. patents.
  • According to a 2016 analysis by the Washington Economics Group, USF innovation and economic development efforts generate more than $400 million in state impact per year, help sustain more than 3,000 jobs, and returns more than $52 million in local, state, and federal taxes.
  • In 2018, the average USF freshman SAT score was 1,283 with a 4.09 high school grade-point average. Both are well above Preeminence standards.
  • In 2019, the average MCAT score of 515 for students at USF’s Morsani College of Medicine was ranked near the top of all the nation’s medical schools.
  • USF was granted a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa Society in 2018. That’s the oldest and most prestigious national honor organization in the United States.
  • In 2018, USF was one of just seven universities in the nation and the only one in Florida to earn the Active Minds Healthy Campus Award for promoting student health and well- being.
  • In its 2020 rankings, U.S. News & World Report named USF’s Tampa campus as a Best College for Veterans.
  • In 2019, USF ranks third nationally in graduate student volunteers in the Peace Corps.
  • USF has 19 athletic teams in men’s and women’s varsity sports. Since joining the American Athletic Conference in 2013, USF has won 12 conference titles.
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Read more articles by Patrick Yasinskas.

Patrick “Pat” Yasinskas is an award-winning Tampa-based freelance writer. He has covered the National Football League since 1992 and worked for The Tampa Tribune, The Charlotte Observer and ESPN. He also has served as a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the NFC South chairman of the Pro Football Writers Association. He also has been an avid baseball card collector since the 1970s.