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Our History

University history

USF St. Petersburg has a history rich with academic excellence, entrepreneurial spirit and ingenuity. Its founders opened the doors to students on Sept. 5, 1965, and throughout its history this academic cove on Bayboro Harbor has embraced enormous change as Florida’s need for higher education intensified.

USF St. Petersburg was the first regional higher education institution in Florida.

USF St. Petersburg’s early administrators were creative and ambitious, building support from the St. Petersburg City Council, St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Legislature, the Board of Regents and intellectual leaders such as Nelson Poynter of the St. Petersburg Times, to lead the institution toward its current role as a graduate urban institution.

The first classes began for 260 freshmen on Sept. 7, 1965 in the old Maritime Service barracks. They also took classes in Tampa, and shuttles took students to and from the campuses.

In the late 1960s, then-USF President John Allen devised a plan to offer commuter students access to upper-level undergraudate and limited graduate programs, under the name Bayboro Campus. He put Lester Tuttle, a College of Education faculty member, in charge of the plan. Florida lawmakers made it an official branch campus in 1969. By the mid-1970s, the campus was offering a variety of upper-level undergraduate and some graduate courses.

Nelson Poynter participated in a groundbreaking for a much-expanded campus on June 15, 1978. He died hours later. The USF St. Petersburg library is named in his honor. The campus continued to grow through the 1980s, with new buildings and expanded course offerings.

In the late 1990s, lawmakers began the process that would lead to USF St. Petersburg becoming a separately accredited institution within the USF System. That led to a rapid expansion under interim VP/CEO Ralph Wilcox. The Florida Legislature made it official in 2002 with a law creating the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Its first residence hall broke ground in 2005. In 2006, USFSP was awarded separate accreditation by the Southern Association of College and Schools. Under the leadership of Regional Vice Chancellor Margaret Sullivan, the accreditation was reaffirmed in 2011.