Eritha Cainion, senior at St. Petersburg Collegiate High School, join Seminole Provost Jim Olliver in cutting the ribbon at the PSTA event Thursday

Jonathan Jacques, president of Seminole Campus Student Government Association and Eritha Cainion, senior at St. Petersburg Collegiate High School, join Seminole Provost Jim Olliver in cutting the ribbon at the PSTA event Thursday

St. Petersburg College and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority cut the ribbon Thursday on their new agreement to let SPC’s 45,000 students and 3,900 employees ride PSTA buses for free for the next year. The agreement, which was effective as classes began this week, will cost the college $75,000 this year, through student activity fees.

“Transportation is very important to our students,” said Karen Kaufman White, provost of St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus, where the celebratory event was held. “For some of our students, this pass will make the difference in coming to college and not coming to college. We have been working for and hoping for easy access to bus service for our students for a very, very long time.”

Previously, SPC students could get monthly bus passes paid for by their campus Student Life and Leadership offices. Now, any student, anytime, anywhere can ride free of charge on any PSTA bus, including regular and express routes, shuttles and trolleys. PSTA operates 203 vehicles on 40 routes with 5,115 bus stops.

“This lifts the burden of not having a vehicle or access off the backs of SPC students,” said Eritha Cainion, senior at St. Petersburg Collegiate High School. “This policy means no more awkward fumbles at the front of the bus trying to scrounge for my money and my wallet. I can just flash that shiny blue (student) ID card and take my seat.”

PSTA officials said the Universal Pass, or UPass, could save SPC students an average of $9,000 a year in car maintenance and ownership costs, a figure reported by Consumer Reports.

“This plan makes so much sense because the PSTA gets riders and we get the transport,” said Jonathan Jacques, president of the Seminole Student Government Association. “Student government presidents were very supportive of this because it addressed concerns students have had for years.”

SPC and PSTA will coordinate promoting the program, which began this first week of classes at SPC. PSTA will capture information on ridership, which set a record in June, as riders boarded PSTA vehicles nearly 1.2 million times. This continues a strong upward ridership trend for PSTA, which had a record year in 2013 with 14,459,180 riders.

“This is a great benefit for both PSTA and St. Pete College,” said PSTA CEO Brad Miller. “One of the major ways we can improve our economy in Pinellas County is by getting more people to get advanced degrees … if you get an advanced degree, you can get a better job which helps all of us.”

“We are an ‘open access’ institution – a four-year college in programs and stature but still a ‘community’ college in our hearts: serving our communities by making sure that students, who would not otherwise have access to a high-quality education, can do so close to home,” said Seminole Provost James Olliver. “This is what good public policy looks like – providing for an easily understood, easily administered program where PSTA gets riders and students know they have a way to get to school every day without having to worry about affording the service.”

Months of efforts to get students enrolled this fall at St. Petersburg College have paid off, as enrollment for the term is up 2.2 percent over Fall 2013. As of Monday, the first day of fall classes, 32,350 students were enrolled in 276,620 semester hours at SPC.

“We’re in good shape and I’m very glad to present these numbers because it’s been a few years since I’ve been able to report enrollment gains,” Patrick Rinard, Associate Vice President for Enrollment Services, told SPC’s Board of Trustees on Tuesday. “A number of our sister institutions across the state are reporting enrollment declines” the first day of classes.

At SPC, First-Time-In-College student enrollment was up 8.8 percent, with even stronger gains among minority FTIC students. Enrollment among FTIC African-American students was up 19.7 percent while FTIC Hispanic student enrollment was up 18.3 percent.

Bachelor’s degree programs saw a 6.7 percent increase in students, continuing a trend of several years. Students seeking a bachelor’s degree now make up 12.7 percent of overall enrollment at SPC, up from 9.4 percent in Fall 2009. The top bachelor’s degree programs at SPC by enrollment and student hours are nursing, business administration and education.

“We’re really proud of the data,” said Tonjua Williams, Senior Vice President for Student Services. “This would not have happened without changing the way we did business. We had to undo some of our processes and remove some obstacles to enrolling.”

“As an institution, it’s easy to give yourself kudos, but it’s much harder to look at yourself and say maybe we need to change some processes,” said BOT member Lauralee Westine. “This came from all of you and we are thankful.”

Rather than attend a required orientation and get a student ID, new students at SPC now see an advisor when they register for classes to make sure they are on track. Previously, students were also required to take a career assessment, apply for financial aid, activate their SPC OneCard and get their textbooks before they could register.

Other strategies implemented by college staff to increase enrollment included:

  • Enhanced marketing and publications, particularly on social media
  • Stronger student communications that are more personal and timely
  • A weekly Fall 2014 enrollment webinar among staff so enrollment efforts could be better coordinated and communicated

St. Petersburg College is partnering with Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority to provide free bus rides for SPC’s 45,000 students and 3,900 employees over the next year. The agreement, which was effective as classes began this week, will cost the college $75,000 this year, through student activity fees.

“I want to thank the board for looking out for the best interests of the students,” said Seminole Campus Student Government Association President Jonathan Jacques in a video message to SPC’s Board of Trustees Tuesday. “This addresses a concern students have had for years.”

In the past, bus service to the Seminole Campus was intermittent during the day and non-existent on evenings and weekends, making class attendance difficult for many students. Route 58, which serves the campus, now runs more frequently “so students can attend Seminole Campus events and classes at night,” Jacques said.

The Universal Pass, or UPASS, provides unlimited bus service for SPC students, who can ride free any time on all routes, including regular and express routes, shuttles and trolleys by using their student ID. All 3,898 college employees, full and part-time, faculty and staff also can ride any bus service for free by showing their ID.

SPC and PSTA will coordinate program promotion. PSTA will capture information on ridership, which set a record in June, as riders boarded PSTA vehicles nearly 1.2 million times, up 4.4% from June 2013. This continues a strong upward ridership trend for PSTA, which had a record year in 2013 with 14,459,180 riders.

About SPC: St. Petersburg College was Florida’s first two-year college (founded in 1927) as well as the state’s first community college to offer bachelor’s degrees (2002). Today, SPC is one of 28 state colleges and, with 11 learning sites, serves as a model for incorporating bachelor’s degree programs into traditional two-year institutions.

About PSTA: The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is the public transit provider for Pinellas County, providing more than 14.4 million rides per year. PSTA operates nearly 40 bus and trolley routes with a fleet of 203 vehicles.

Since receiving a $2.2 million Title III grant on Oct. 1, 2013, St. Petersburg College has made significant steps in its first year toward implementation of the five-year grant, The College Experience: A Pathway from Enrollment to Graduation. Aspects of the Title III grant were discussed at discipline meetings following the Fall Faculty event.

The five-year grant, awarded through the Title III Strengthening Institutions Program, is funded by the U.S. Department of Education to improve the systems, services and supports necessary to successfully guide students from enrollment to graduation.

Title III provides funding to enhance many of the initiatives of The College Experience:

  • Student Coaching System
  • My Learning Plan
  • New Student Orientation
  • Student Life Skills (SLS) course enhancements

Additionally, the grant also includes funding for several brand new projects, including:

Title III grant projects are directed by Linda Hogans, Executive Director of Retention Services, and Carrie Rodesiler, Director of Title III. Grant implementation is a college-wide endeavor that includes deans, faculty, provosts, Human Resources, Enrollment Services, Student Support Services, Institutional Research and Effectiveness, Business Services, Online Learning and Services, Marketing and Public Information and student representatives.

This Fall 2014 report includes an update on all Title III project components from the first year of the grant. The second year of the grant begins Oct. 1, 2014.

Title III Document

Pinellas County citizens will go to the polls Nov. 4 to vote on a proposed 1-cent sales tax increase to improve public transportation facilities in the county. To help them understand the pros and cons of the referendum, named Greenlight Pinellas, the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at St. Petersburg College will present a free public forum on the issue from 6-8 p.m. Aug 28.

The program, titled “Dealing with Gridlock: Is There a Light Rail in Pinellas County’s Future?” will be held at the Enoch Davis Recreation Center, 1111 18th Ave. S. Advance reservations are requested.

The referendum, approved to go on the ballot last fall by the Pinellas County Commission, would fund improvements in bus service provided by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. It would eventually support a 24-mile light-rail line serving high-employment sectors between downtown St. Petersburg and downtown Clearwater. While raising the sales tax from 7 to 8 cents per dollar, the referendum would eliminate the current .75-mill property tax dedicated to transportation.

The forum will open with a brief explanation of the proposal, followed by pro and con presentations by advocates for and against passage. Speaking for the amendment will be Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch. Speaking against will be Dan Liedtke, a member of the Gulfport City Council.

The final portion of the program will be devoted to answering questions from the audience. Moderating the debate will Dr. James Olliver, provost of the Seminole Campus.

The proposed tax increase, if approved by more than 50 percent of Pinellas voters, would authorize a 1-cent sales tax increase for 30 years, which would raise a projected $130 million per year. The tax hike would be partially offset by eliminating the current .75-mill property tax for transit that brings in $32 million.

For that revenue stream, PSTA promises a 65 percent increase in bus service, a Bus Rapid Transit line or dedicated bus lanes on major corridors and an eventual 24-mile light rail line connecting St. Petersburg and Clearwater via the Gateway/Carillon area.

The Tampa Bay Times is the media sponsor.