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Wednesday, Apr 16, 2014

Students willing to take plunge with under-construction Poly


TAMPA — The campus’ signature building is still under construction. The school isn’t accredited. And the faculty roster currently lists three full-time professors.

But high school senior Ross Young likes what he sees at Florida Polytechnic University.

Enough so that he’s plunked down a deposit and committed to join Poly’s initial class in the fall of 2014.

“I’m pretty confident that everything’s going to go off well,” said Young, an avid gamer from Lakeland who will study programming at Poly. “My main concern was finding a college that fit my needs and was close.”

As Florida Polytechnic hustles to get the state’s 12th public university up and running, administrators say they are on track to open in August with 500 students and 30 faculty.

As of this week, the school has fielded 4,000 inquiries about fall enrollment, received 1,100 applications, admitted 68 students and received deposits from four of those who are taking the plunge, according to Scott Rhodes, executive director of enrollment services.

Alex Durante said he was immediately intrigued when his guidance counselor at Astronaut High School in Titusville told him about Poly.

“She knew I was interested in such things as engineering and science, and she said, ‘Well, there’s this new school opening in Lakeland, and they’re going to focus on hands-on learning,’” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that few people have, to go to a brand-new school. I was really interested in participating in that.”

Young, who attends George Jenkins High School in Lakeland, said he considered schools such as Kaiser University or one of the Art Institute schools. “We went to college fairs and just collected various fliers, looking at different schools,” he said. He wasn’t deterred by the fact that the fledgling Poly won’t offer such college staples as sports teams, clubs or publications.

“I was never really big on those sorts of things in the first place,” he said. “My main goal is programming itself. Whether my career carries me into gaming or not, I want to be a programmer. I want to do code and all those things.”

One concern, however, was accreditation. The legislation creating Florida Polytechnic requires the university to achieve accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools by Dec. 31, 2016; Poly administrators say that can and will be accomplished.

After discussions with friends who found success after attending unaccredited institutions, Young said it “wasn’t such a big deal in the long run.”

His mother, Diane Young, also got over the accreditation situation. “I’ve been reading all the newspaper articles and everything, and I think the accreditation thing won’t be an issue,” she said. “We’re pretty excited now.”

Those newspaper articles she referred to reflect a bumpy path toward the establishment of Florida Polytechnic. The school was under the University of South Florida umbrella and on a slow path toward independence when a bill was pushed through the 2012 Legislature making the move instant. Opponents criticized the haste, but administrators forged ahead creating the new university with the same state allocation that USF Polytechnic had received.

The campus’ showpiece, the $110 million Innovation, Science and Technology building designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, is being completed at the intersection of Interstate 4 and the eastern Polk Parkway. The Poly board is in final negotiations for construction of a 200-bed, $12 million residence hall on campus, also expected to open by August.

Recruiter Lauren Willison said the prospects she’s talked to aren’t jittery about the timetable. “I know that we’re going to be up and running by the fall, and students are comfortable with that,” she said. “They think it’s cool that they get to be a part of something on the ground floor.”

To compete for top students, Poly is offering its first class of students virtually a free ride. The fall 2014 enrollees will receive $5,000 scholarships for their first three years and $3,200 for the fourth year; tuition and fees are estimated at $5,029 for the 2014-15 academic year.

“Of course” the scholarship offer contributed to his decision to attend Poly, said Titusville’s Durante, who intends to study nanotechnology. “My view is that if they’re willing to offer that kind of scholarship, they’re trying to get as high-quality a student as they can.”

Durante also isn’t too concerned about the timetable for building the university, even though he’s planning on living in a dorm that’s still in the concept stage.

“To be honest, I don’t know (if the facilities will be ready), but if they’re willing to accept students, they’ll either have the arrangements ready or they’ll have to figure out something for the students,” he said.

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