University of South Florida


USF expands program to enhance access for high school students from lower-income backgrounds

A sign showing the USF seal and stating 'University of South Florida'

The University of South Florida has nearly doubled the size of a program that guarantees admission to any of its three campuses for students who attend local high schools serving historically underrepresented communities.

Through the Guaranteed Admissions Pathway Program (GAPP), students at 17 Title I high schools can secure their place at USF by sustaining a 3.7 GPA by the end of their junior year and earning a score of 1100 on the SAT or 22 on the ACT.  Starting with the admissions process this year, the number of high schools participating in the GAPP program has expanded significantly from nine to 17, and now includes schools in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Sarasota, Manatee, Pasco and Lake counties.  Title I schools are those where high numbers or high percentages of students come from low-income families.

The goal of GAPP is to increase access to higher education for students from underrepresented groups and economically disadvantaged backgrounds, building on USF’s long-standing commitment to student success.  Approximately 40 percent of USF students are eligible for federal financial aid through Pell Grants and the university has earned widespread national recognition for its success graduating underrepresented minority and limited income students at rates equal to or higher than white and higher income students.

“This access program will help enroll students from the Tampa Bay area who will be able to earn a college degree locally and then hopefully keep their talents here to contribute to and enhance the community,” said Glen Besterfield, dean of admissions and associate vice president of student success at USF.

High school students can apply to GAPP by completing the standard USF admissions application and they can select any USF campus to attend.  Students will also be granted priority consideration for the History of Achievement Scholarship, an academic award of up to $2,000.

“GAPP will increase the diversity of our student body, which creates a healthier and more sustainable community,” said Creah Demps, coordinator of outreach and access in USF’s Office of Admissions. “It also has the added benefit of enhancing our engagement and collaboration with our local high schools.”

GAPP began last year among a handful of high schools and has expanded due to its success.

“In many cases, we will be engaging with students who are the first in their family to go to college, so it is vital for them, and especially their parents, to understand the admissions process. This is why we want to engage with students when they are early in their junior year and even sophomore year so they can make a plan both academically and personally to reach their goal,” said Besterfield.

A key component of the program is the collaboration with principals and guidance counselors to ensure students are aware of GAPP.  For Michael Vigue, principal of Boca Ciega High School in Pinellas County, GAPP provides a way into college for many students who were not considering higher education.

“We began our collaboration with the USF St. Petersburg campus with the expectation of getting more of our students who typically wouldn’t continue their education after high school to go off to the university and then come back and give back. The hope is that this program will both diversify college campuses while giving our students the opportunity to succeed,” Vigue said.

GAPP is one of several USF programs that seeks to enhance access and graduation rates for higher education. It joins FUSE, a transfer program between USF and eight Florida state colleges that provides seamless academic pathways for students to complete their associate degree, guaranteeing admission into specific majors at USF and the Student Support Services Program, a unique summer entry program that provides effective academic and personal support to increase retention and graduation rates for a diverse student population.

Students who apply to GAPP by the priority admissions deadline, which has been extended to Jan. 1, 2021, could also be identified for these other access programs.

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