In an attempt to improve the graduation rate, the University of South Florida is coming up with creative ways to get students to finish school faster.
One new way is to cover their entire tuition and fees, even textbook costs, for their final semester!
In what USF is calling a "pilot program," the scholarship was awarded to about 150 students this summer who were within 12 credit hours of graduating.
One student describes it like winning the lottery.
"I was doing homework, studying right before my final for Spring Semester, and a random email popped up. I thought it was fake!" explains Kayla Cole, a USF senior with hopes of one day becoming a physician's assistant. She was thrilled to learn to was a real offer: USF would waive her tuition fees if she could finish her credit hours this summer.
The scholarship has the university, in effect, paying students to finish their degrees within 4 years; it will cost USF tens of thousands of dollars this summer, but the school hopes the scholarship will help inch the school closer towards a much bigger financial windfall for the University.
USF just missed out on Florida's lucrative "Pre-eminence" designation this year, when state legislators changed the requirements for a designation that would have given the Tampa-based school access to a pool of state money, $48 million this year, currently only shared by the University of Florida and Florida State University.
USF's four-year graduation rate was 55.1% headed into the 2016-2017 school year, according to USF, and this year the Florida Legislature moved the four-year graduation rate requirement from 50% to 60%.
Provost Dr. Ralph Wilcox of USF tells ABC Action News that, had the university had access to the funds currently only accessed by UF and FSU, they would have used much of that money for hiring more professors.
"Our goal over the next 5 years is to hire 300 new professors at the University of South Florida, Tampa campus," says Dr. Wilcox.
There are already several scholarships available to USF students to try to get them to finish school within four years, says Dr. Wilcox, but the summer pilot program for graduating seniors is one of what could become several small financial incentives designed to push USF's graduation rates up ever so slightly.
The school hasn't yet decided if they will continue this pilot program for the fall, says Dr. Wilcox to ABC Action News, but says they may try other financial incentives in the future if it looks like it will have an impact on student graduation rates.
Dr. Wilcox adds that improving the university's graduation rate will have a positive impact on the whole Tampa Bay Area community; students don't need to fall into as much debt, they get into the workplace sooner, and there's more room for new students to enter the university system.