ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The freshman class at USF St. Pete is the biggest ever, but it's the small school atmosphere that lured students Dianne Montez and Cheyanne Robinson.
"It makes it better than a bigger school. It makes it easier to study, easier to get things done," said Montez, who is from Coral Springs.
"I was talking to my guidance counselor and he said maybe you should try something smaller because that would be a better fit for you," said Robinson.
And with this freshman class, USF St. Pete's reputation is quickly changing.
"You speak to anybody around here and they know that it was a commuter campus -- the key word is 'was.' You see the energy. You see the people moving back and forth, staying on campus," explained Student Body President Mark Lombardi-Nelson.
Now students have a new place to stay, study and hang-out.
"This is 'The Reef. It's the dining facility, so it seats about 200 students," said Julie Wong, USFSP Chief Student Affairs Officer.
While other universities are losing students due to tuition increases and crippling student debt, overall enrollment here is up 6-percent from last year.
"Our housing has been a game changer for this university. What I'm hearing around campus is that we're a real university now," said Wong.
A new $21-million University student center is one way Dwayne Isaacs tells me they're building on growth.
"It's a big retention tool. It's a big recruitment tool," said Isaacs.
The number of students living in campus housing has doubled since the 2005-2006 school year.
"They want to know what's going on, and they want to be here," he said.
Student fees built the new university center and there are plans to build a new dorm to keep up the university's new reputation.
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