By Tina Meketa, University Communications and Marketing
USF’s historic invitation to join the Association of American Universities takes what many in Tampa Bay once considered a “best-kept secret” to an unprecedented new level. Joining the AAU is a tremendous milestone as it formalizes USF's position as a leading research university. Founded in 1956, the university has rapidly evolved into a global powerhouse that transforms lives through education, research and innovation. USF, with campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee, is the first public university in Florida to be invited to join the AAU in nearly 40 years and is now one of only two institutions from the State University System of Florida to serve as an AAU member.
Its path toward AAU was first set by the university’s Board of Trustees more than 15 years ago. Current President Rhea Law served as the board chair in 2007 when USF formally added AAU membership as an aspiration in its strategic plan. Achieving that lofty goal enhances funding opportunities for USF. Member universities receive the majority of competitively awarded federal funding for research. According to the AAU, faculty at their member universities perform 63% of the total amount of federally funded basic research ($28.8 billion).
Federal agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Defense rely on universities to perform critical research in the national interest. For USF, it means more opportunities to respond to great challenges, as it has done in studying the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and developing tools for early detection of dementia. USF is already among the most research-intensive universities in the nation and one of the world’s top universities for generating new U.S. patents.
As an AAU institution, USF is positioned to further enhance its role of meeting the state’s workforce needs and driving economic development. USF generates an annual economic impact of $6 billion, supporting more than 68,000 jobs. Companies from across the country are relocating to Tampa Bay – one of the nation’s fastest growing regions – and many credit the robust pool of talent created by USF, especially in cybersecurity. This trajectory will only continue as the brightest faculty, staff and students are historically known to gravitate to AAU universities located in metropolitan areas, helping bring more federal tax dollars to the state of Florida.
AAU membership will make USF an even more attractive destination for high-achieving students from across the world. In the past year, USF received a record number of applications and welcomed its largest and strongest academic incoming class, which included 79 National Merit Scholars – a 27 percent increase from the record set the previous academic year.
USF is also one of the youngest institutions to be welcomed into the AAU, a reflection of the university’s fast rise. It joins the ranks of prestigious universities, such as Harvard, Yale, MIT, Stanford, Princeton, Florida, UCLA, Ohio State and Michigan. Of the association’s now 71 members, USF is the fifth youngest and one of only six AAU universities to be founded after 1950.
As another indicator of the university’s trajectory, USF is currently ranked in its highest position ever by U.S. News & World Report at No. 42 among all public universities. Over the past decade USF has jumped 52 spots and continues to have its sights set on becoming a top 25 public university in America.