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We’re working to transform local reporting on college by combining the sophistication of a national newsroom that knows a topic very deeply with the engagement of a community newsroom that knows a place very deeply.

We’re expanding to Florida

(University of South Florida)

This newsletter is about the role of higher ed in society. Each week, we highlight how college is (or is not) working for citizens and communities. It goes out most Friday mornings — If someone forwarded this to you, you can sign up for your own copy here.


The Weekly Dispatch
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A newsletter about role of higher education in society — plus Open Campus developments. By Sara Hebel and Scott Smallwood

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New partnership in Tampa

When it comes to college in America, we revere the age and history of our most renowned institutions — the ones that are quick to remind us they predate the founding of the country. We even created a whole architecture style around making our colleges look medieval.

On the other hand, we’re simultaneously taken by the new, new thing. Remember MOOCs? And coding boot camps?

Somewhere between our venerated centuries-old places and the latest apps sit all the workhorses of American higher education — many founded after World War II, often in booming states, that now enroll the bulk of undergrads.

I’m thinking about places like that this week because we’re announcing the expansion of our local network to Florida through a partnership with the Tampa Bay Times.

The city is the home to the quintessential new American research university — the University of South Florida. It opened its doors in 1960 and has grown to be the 11th largest public university in the nation (though amazingly its 50,000 students make it just the fourth biggest in Florida).

Higher ed has been a busy beat in Florida in recent years: battles over free speech, numerous presidential searches, and a governor who wants to limit tenure.

Unlike so many local outlets in the country the Times does have a reporter covering colleges — Divya Kumar, who attended USF herself as an undergrad.

Divya joined the Times in 2016 as an editorial assistant after getting a master’s degree from Columbia University. She covered community news in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties before taking on the higher ed beat in 2020. “I find it to be fascinating because it’s a microcosm of everything else in the world — and one ripe with power imbalances.”

And USF, she says, is known in the state for being young and scrappy. But increasingly, it wants to be seen as a national player. It cracked the top 50 in the US News list of public universities last year and described itself as the nation’s “fastest rising university,” climbing nearly 50 spots in the last decade.

Our partnership, supported by The Kresge Foundation and Helios Education Foundation, will allow us to incorporate Divya into our network, work with her on in-depth stories, and help the Times hire a new data reporter for their education team.(Here’s the job ad for that data reporter position.)

Carolyn Fox, the managing editor of the Tampa Bay Times, said education is a cornerstone of the newspaper’s coverage: “Schools — from K-12 to colleges and universities — are a major employer in our region. And what happens within those institutions have an impact on both the people that work there and students across the bay area.”

With this addition, our local network now has eight partners in eight different states. California, Cleveland, Colorado, El Paso, Indiana, Mississippi, and Pittsburgh are the others. Our goal remains to get to 25 partners by the end of 2024.

Got story ideas for us in Florida? Or other locations for our network? Get in touch.

—Scott Smallwood

+ P.S. Here’s that Atlantic story from 2013 about Collegiate Gothic architecture.

Elsewhere on Open Campus

In Mississippi, inside the weekly trivia night at Hey Joe’s where teams from Delta State University compete for an annual $1,000 for their department. Can anyone dethrone the Athletics Department?

In Cleveland, rising inflation is the latest hurdle for private colleges that rely on tuition to stay afloat. Supply chain delays and tight labor market don’t help either.

And in our newsletters:

  • Nick Fouriezos writes about rural broadband, finicky hotspots, and faulty federal maps in Mile Markers.
  • Naomi Harris interviews Dwight McBridge, president of New School, in The Intersection about how administrators of color navigate white-dominated spaces.
  • Paul Fain writes about a $500-million fund you haven’t heard about in The Job. It’s a state training program that gives $2,500 to Californians who lost their jobs in the pandemic.
  • Charlotte West looks at the hard choices people make around education in prisons for College Inside: Do you transfer to a prison on far away from your family to participate in a college program? Do you delay your petition for resentencing so you can graduate?

Keep in Touch

Please share. Forward this newsletter to colleagues, family, and friends who might be interested. They can sign up for their own copy here.

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Support our journalism. Here’s where to donate.

Work with us in Tampa. Our partner newsroom, the Tampa Bay Times, is hiring a data reporter for the education team, who’ll also work with Open Campus. Apply here.

Run a newsroom and want to improve your coverage of higher ed? Let’s talk.

Got a story tip or a question? Please send it along.

Our Local Network locations: California | Cleveland | Colorado | El Paso | Indiana | Mississippi | Pittsburgh | Tampa

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